Taken for a ride: on India’s gender-blind transport system

A few days ago, I was going through the usual drill of booking an Uber auto while waiting on a main road — explaining where I had to go, confirming that it wasn’t a card payment, giving the driver the exact route to get there — only to have him cancel the ride for no particular reason. The next driver who accepted the ride was rude from the word go: he wanted a cash-only ride and still had a list of unnecessary questions that could have been answered had he just looked at his app.

Something did not feel right so I went ahead and cancelled the ride and booked an Ola. After a few minutes, the irked Uber driver landed up at my location after tracking me down, only to hurl abuses and threaten to hit me. He continued to create a scene even as I moved away and got into my auto that had thankfully arrived by then. With no call centre in place, it took the team at Uber over 20 hours to get back and only because my posts on various social media platforms were being noticed.

If you’re thinking this is perhaps something only users of private services face, I can list the many safety-related incidents reported by those who use public autos, buses and trains. Earlier this week, a colleague posted about her unpleasant experience on a bus tackling a man groping women passengers — having to deal with sexual predators roaming about deserted railway platforms and bus stations isn’t new for most women in the city.

Mind the gap

A 2010 report by New-Delhi based NGO Jagori revealed that “51% women in the capital faced harassment inside public transport, and another 42% while waiting for public transport”. Cut to Ola’s survey ahead of International Women’s Day 2019, which highlighted how only 9% of the surveyed women commuters in the country felt safe in public transport, but still used it due to the lack of other options. Launch all the women-only railway coaches and special seats on buses you want, but the fact remains that it isn’t the women who need to be confined, but the men who need to be put in their place.

  • Rope in traffic police at large bus depots, MRTC railway stations
  • Provide functional and responsive helplines
  • Ensure elevators and escalators are functional
  • Better footpaths and clean subways
  • Create safe and usable cycling tracks
  • Set up gender advisory committees
  • Most importantly, educate and sensitise men

As per a 2017 report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), women may turn down better employment opportunities further away from home in favour of lower-paid local jobs when the public transport system is unreliable or unaffordable. This holds true especially for those belonging to lower-income groups, thus impacting their access to better jobs, education and basic necessities. The same ITDP report also states that over 84% of trips by women are by public, intermediate public and non-motorised modes of transport. So why aren’t we working towards making them safe?

Motor Vehicles Bill 2019

As far as app-based taxi hailing services go, the recently-passed Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019 provides some relief to passengers. The Bill now gives power to the Centre to regulate these services and set ground rules on safety and surge pricing, and hopefully get them to invest in customer care teams (Uber India doesn’t have a call option yet). But efforts to improve our crumbling public transport systems — used by a majority of the population — haven’t been addressed.

While the Bill does point out issues of road safety, much-needed heftier fines for errant drivers, vehicle recall norms, there’s no mention of better roads or infrastructure development. The government’s Smart Cities Mission aims to create walkable localities, promote mixed-land uses, develop green spaces and technology-centric pan city proposals such as CCTV cameras. But unless we have gender-responsive plans for urban transport in place, our cities will be far from inclusive.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 2:59:11 PM |

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