AIPWA welcomes the Delhi Government move to offer free bus and metro transport to women.
Affordable public transport is key to safeguarding women's right to mobility and autonomy in public spaces of our cities. Free transport is especially valuable to working class women in these hard times when every penny counts, and the high metro fares deter women from accessing it.
But free transport for women isn't enough to keep women safe if there are not enough buses. Jyoti Singh could be alive today if a DTC bus had been available on December 16, 2012 rather than the illegal rogue bus driven by rapists. The Delhi Government has not procured a single new DTC bus in years and is promoting a privatised PPP model. The existing DTC fleet is just 3500 buses, far short of the 11000 buses recommended by SC judgements from 1998 onwards till 2017. In Beijing, there are 1205 buses per million people, in Paris, 1783 buses - and in Delhi the number is just around 300 per million - (source - CSE's 2017 'Waiting For A Bus' report). The Delhi Government needs to walk its talk and make sure DTC has a sufficient fleet of at least 11000 buses, and it needs to stop promoting PPP cluster buses and stop exploiting contract labour in DTC. Permanent, properly paid staff make public transport safer in every way, and benefit both workers and commuters. AIPWA rejects the liberal notion that 'feminism' is incompatible with women-only schemes, seats, buses, train compartments etc. This notion, which implies that such provisions for women, as well as caste- based reservations, go against 'equality' is flawed because it ignores the structural nature of inequality, where not just individuals but entire classes of people face discrimination and exclusion based on their social and economic position; their gender, caste, class, race identity.
Apart from buying enough buses and making contractualised DTC staff permanent, metro and bus travel should also be subsidised for all students and for the elderly. Eventually, Delhi should move towards a system of free public transport for all. Critics are asking, where is the money to come from, for more buses, for free transport for women, and for subsidised transport costs for students and the elderly? AIPWA suggests that a public transport cess be levied on those in the top income bracket. This means that the rich are identified and targeted for taxes. Measures like BPL cards that 'target' the poor end up excluding the poor from welfare schemes - this is why welfare schemes should be universal, and taxation and cess be used to make the rich pay. The rich should pay to subsidise public transport because doing so will not only benefit the poor, it will benefit everyone. We all breathe the same air, which in Delhi is dangerously polluted. More buses will mean less pollution. A bus occupies twice the street space as a car, while it can carry 40 times the number of passengers. According to a study by the Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA), a reasonably-full bus can replace anywhere between 5 and 50 other motorised vehicles. More buses can also mean an enormous saving in fuel and reduction in pollution.
Subsidised and even free public transport is a measure that has yielded good results in many parts of the world in reducing pollution and promoting women’s mobility and access to the city’s public spaces. Indian cities can benefit enormously from emulating such measures.