There is growing clamour for a transport system that is gender-friendly, accessible to all and safe. "Mobility is highly uncared for. And when mobility is ignored that is when you see an impact on social, cultural and economic developments."
Each time she hears someone complain about the traffic and the reluctance of people to use public transport, journalist Nikita D. has just one question: “Why should people, especially women, be forced to take public transport when we all know how unsafe it is?”
Nikita drives 60 km everyday from her Gurgaon residence to her office in Connaught Place. “What are my options if I don't want to drive? I will first have to get a taxi or an auto till the nearest metro station, then fight my way into a crowded coach, walk to my office and repeat the same exercise on the way back. The money and the time I spend using public transport is barely a consideration because I am more worried about my safety. I often travel late, and that alone is reason enough for me to travel in my own car,” she says.
M.K. Kaul is a septuagenarian who rarely ventures out alone. When he has to, it is either in a car driven by a family member or in a taxi which he admits is “an expense” he can “ill afford”. “You have to be strong and young and forceful to be able to get into a metro or a bus. Yes, there are seats reserved for older people, but the biggest challenge is to get in first,” he says.
Complaints such as Ms. Nikita's and Mr. Kaul's are not rare and nor is the sight of women, older people and the differently abled in a bus or a metro, but there is growing clamour for a transport system that is inclusive and a policy that emerges after public consultation.
“The issue of gender and transport has been ignored for long. Very little is done for those with special needs and these can be pregnant women, children and even the differently-abled. A transport system that is gender friendly; accessible to children, the differently-abled and the old will also be a transport system that is safe. When drawing up a policy and deciding on a transport system, it is necessary to pay attention to these aspects. It is necessary to afford a sense of ownership to the people before we take things to the execution stage,” says Initiative for Transportation and Development Programme (ITDP, Delhi) programme director Nalin Sinha.
Experts in the sector point out that public consultation before implementation of transport policies and introduction of newer modes of transport is necessary in order to make a policy inclusive.
“Our policy-makers are afraid of public consultation. It scares them to think that the people will oppose their plans. Look at what they did with the metro, despite hundreds of people petitioning the government and the Metro Corporation to go underground, they still managed to get their way. If that isn't enough, they have allowed commercial activities around metro stations, taking away whatever little privacy and safety that residential neighbourhoods offered their people. In some countries public participation can take up to five years, before the policies are finalised and implemented, not like our city, where they plonk a metro station or a bus stand wherever it suits the authorities,” says social activist Alpana Kishore.
Foresight in planning and not worrying about short-term gains is another aspect that policy-makers should consider, architect and urban planner Kuldip Singh points out.
“We should not let short-term gains affect long-term goals. We should not shy away from spending more on a system that is expensive now but eventually more effective. For example, the metro, which is more expensive than a BRT corridor, but has double or triple the carrying capacity of a bus. Why not invest wisely then? Also, safety of women in public transport system is an old problem. Steps like reserving seats for women are doing too little too late,” he adds.
Offering solutions to make public transport less intimidating for women and for those with special needs, Mr. Singh says: “There are companies making small cars, which are fuel efficient and cheap. Why not press them into service and use them as an affordable taxi service? These cars may not offer the comfort of a luxury vehicle, but will be reliable, safe and affordable.”
Not having a transport system that caters to the demand of the people with special needs has a negative impact, he says. “Mobility is highly uncared for. And when mobility is ignored that is when you see an impact on social, cultural and economic developments.”