Even as the Union government thinks over introducing a bus services exclusively for women in major cities, a sole ladies’ only service being operated by the KSRTC has become a liability to it.

The Union Ministry for Urban Development has sent letters to State governments seeking to explore the possibility of operating women’s only services using buses to be made available under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

KSRTC introduced a ladies’ only service from the Ernakulam depot in the Aroor-Kakkanad route back during the fag end of the previous Left Democratic Front government and close on the heels of the launch of the Thiru-Kochi services.

The services are being operated on all days except Sundays and public holidays, as it targets mainly women working in the district collectorate. The bus reaches Kakkanad at 9.50 a.m. and departs for Aroor at 5 p.m.

KSRTC sources told The Hindu on Saturday that the corporation is seriously considering restricting the service to Kakkanad-Ernakulam route due to lack of patronage.

“Initially, there was good response. But it started to wane. Now it operates often with vacant seats. In the return service from Kakkanad to Aroor, the bus turns almost empty after Kaloor. So, we are thinking of operating it as a ladies’ only service up to Kaloor and to operate it as a general service after that point,” a KSRTC official said.

He said lack of awareness about the service can hardly be a reason as KSRTC has been operating it regularly for about two years now. “We don’t know the exact reason. May be women passengers like to take the first bus that comes their way rather than wait for the service,” the official said.

He said under present circumstances KSRTC cannot afford to divert more buses for ladies’ only services. The corporation neither has enough buses nor financial muscle to carry on losses. He said unless the State government gave a specific direction, ladies’ only services were unlikely even if more buses were made available under JNNURM.

M.B. Sathyan, president, Kerala Private Bus Operators Federation, said unless the government extended some kind of subsidy, private operators will not even consider such a service having burnt their hands with a similar initiative more than a decade ago.

At the instance of the then collector, two private bus operators took a four-month permit for operating a trip each for ladies in the Aluva-Ernakulam and Ernakulam-Aluva route in the peak morning and evening hours.

“But for the good part of the service, both the 43-seater buses operated with more than half the seats vacant. The services were wrapped up after 20-odd days when the operators failed to recover even the fuel cost,” Mr. Sathyan said.

D. Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, said while the concept of ladies’ only services had universal acceptance, it was the failure in addressing last-mile issues that often prove the downfall. He said the transport department was yet averse to integrating technology and other support systems like transit point facilities to the operation of their services. For such a service to be successful, the department should have an exhaustive database of the commuting public. “They should be able to analyze the percentage of women commuters, the professional and economic background of the majority of the targeted commuters, the timing and the routes of their travel.”

For instance, in a city like Kochi the sales girls in textile shops hailing from lower middle class families are more likely to avail of the service. Night shopping can be promoted by operating services matching the timing of these sales girls and it will entail larger socio-economic benefits, Mr. Dhanuraj said.

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