Though the idea behind a Ladies Special (LS) service is laudable, in most cases it is only a symbolic move and does not provide much benefit to the average working woman who takes crowded buses and trains every day to work. A case in point is the LS service on the MRTS network, which was inaugurated on August 12 last year.
On a network which already attracts only lean traffic during off-peak hours, the only nine coach train on the line is devoted for the two LS services (during the morning and evening rush hour), out of the 128 trains every day.
The capacity of a nine coach train is 900. According to Divisional Railway Manager S.K.Kulsrestha, the daily average occupancy of the LS over the past five months has hovered around 10 per cent.
On certain days like October 28 last year and January 14 this year occupancy was as low as 12 and 24 women respectively in the entire nine coach train.
“Timings [of the LS] are a major issue,” said R.Madumathi, a regular MRTS commuter. “It can be modified a bit to make sure that there is at least a reasonable amount of usage. There are not more than 10 women in each compartment on a normal day.”
The LS leaves Chennai Beach station at 9 a.m. and Velachery station at 5.17 p.m. and she feels it is based on the assumption that most women have a 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.
Pointing out that the days of such fixed working hours are over, the Station Manager of one of the MRTS stations said “Each company has its own operational hours and women also have a multiplicity of travel options. They are not going to wait for 30 minutes just to catch a Ladies Special.”
J.Rama, another regular commuter, said “The Ladies Special is well used in the suburban section. In the MRTS, the train is totally empty. How can we feel secure?” she asked.
Mr.Kulsrestha said that timings can be altered to suit the needs of the most number of women passengers provided there was written representation. “If the poor patronage continues, we might consider allowing men in a few of the nine compartments. It will still remain a Ladies Special service.”