The Delhi government’s decision to provide free access of State-run public transportation to women is an excellent idea – on paper; its success, however, was a different ball game which could only be assessed after, and incumbent upon its implementation, experts said here on Monday.
A cross-section of experts whom The Hindu spoke to pointed out questions ranging from “affordability for all” to the very sustainability of Delhi’s current transportation infrastructure and from curbing “joyrides” to the augmentation of last-mile connectivity.
“As a government policy it is more important to have a fare policy for public transport that is not only feasible for women but also affordable to all. It is not just about “free rides” but making public transport available to the mass. It is important to focus on fiscal measures so that one can modernise and develop the infrastructure further,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, of Centre for Science and Environment.
Emphasising on the fact that a fiscal policy will ensure sustainability of public transport, Ms. Roy Chowdhury added, “The challenge is to keep the system running. The government has to think through these aspects, else how are they planning to continue with the systems? The primary aim should be to provide affordable transport to all, including the urban poor so that public transport is sustainable and affordable in the long run.”
Stating that the proposal should have rather aimed at economically weaker sections, “irrespective of gender,” P.K. Sarkar, Director, Asian Institute of Transport Development, said, “This proposal is not at all viable. Instead of extending the facility to those who might not be able to afford public transportation, it aims only at women. In a way, this is gender discrimination as well.”
“The DTC is already running in loss while the Delhi Metro runs to its full capacity. Where is the infrastructure for the metro to carry more people, once the fares are waived off for women? If safety is the concern, then the government could have proposed a few more reserved coaches for women or buses exclusively meant for women. This proposal looks like one primarily aimed at catching vote share,” he added.
S. Velmurugan, Senior Principal Scientist at the Central Road Research Institute said, “In hindsight it is an excellent proposal where people might shift to public transport. But proper planning and implementation is needed for this, including better scheduling of both the metro and the DTC buses.”
“The stakeholders need to think about how to enhance the number of trips to manage the crowd that “free transportation” may end up resulting in, including “joy rides” that one might go on. Enhanced frequency and scheduling is of prime importance,” Mr. Velmurugan said.
Supriya Sundriyal, a 23-year-old who takes the metro daily to Gurugram, said, “What is the connection between free travel and safety? It seems that the decision is not well-thought of and may end up receiving criticism from many.”
The All India Students’ Association that had earlier approached both the Centre and Delhi government seeking a fare concession for students and senior citizens said, “We welcome the decision and we are hopeful that the government will listen to the long-standing demand for metro concessional passes for students. Students are the worst hit by the double fare hike of the Delhi Metro.”