In Delhi, free bus travel for women remains out of reach

Women's bicycling advocacy group Power the Pedal, under the aegis of Greenpeace, demonstrate to highlight gender discrimination in the Delhi public transport system

Representative image of women boarding buses in the capital city of New Delhi (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image of women boarding buses in the capital city of New Delhi (photo: Getty Images)

NH Digital

In a powerful display of unity against mistreatment and discrimination faced by women travelling in public buses, the advocacy group Power the Pedal gathered in a demonstration at Krishi Bhavan bus stop near Central Secretariat in New Delhi on Tuesday, October 3.

Power the Pedal, an initiative started by non-profit Greenpeace India, provides bicycles to women with an aim to helping them reclaim public spaces while fighting air pollution and climate change.

The gathering marked the release of Greenpeace India's latest report, highlighting the underlying gender discrimination experienced by women bus users in Delhi since the introduction of the free bus scheme for women in 2019.

Titled 'Halt for Women Bus Users in Delhi', the report — based on a survey conducted with a sample size of over 500 women — reveals an alarming statistic: a staggering 82 per cent of surveyed women bus users reported instances of buses failing to stop for them at designated bus stops!

Among the respondents, 29 per cent faced such instances frequently, while another 50.2 per cent experienced them occasionally.

Moreover, 54.2 per cent of women bus users reported facing discrimination and receiving derogatory comments from both bus workers and male passengers, specifically in relation to the free bus scheme.

Speaking at the gathering, Nitu Thakur, a member of Power the Pedal, said, "Such experiences not only hamper women’s access to public transport but also create an unwelcoming and unsafe environment. We have often seen buses not stop if the bus shelter has only women waiting. We are often made to feel like freeloaders with staff addressing us rudely."

The free bus scheme was introduced by the Delhi government to promote access to public transport and encourage more women to utilise buses for their daily commute. Reports have since indicated the scheme’s positive impact, with the percentage of women riders increasing from 25 per cent in 2020–21 to nearly 33 per cent in 2022–23.

'While the free bus scheme has proven to be important for women in Delhi, it has also produced challenges and instances of discrimination for women bus users... It is imperative for the Delhi government to initiate sensitisation programmes for bus workers and the general public to counter these narratives,' the report reads.

The report recommends several important measures to help enhance the safety and efficiency of women bus users’ experiences. These include:

  • setting up a monitoring system to ensure buses halt for women passengers

  • a dedicated complaints redressal system

  • installation of panic buttons

  • improved lighting around bus stops

  • increasing participation of women in the transportation sector’s workforce

  • and the introduction of women-only mini-buses.

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