In Delhi’s buses these days, pink slips are a common sight.
These are tickets that allow women in the National Capital to travel in the bus for free. They are availing of a scheme announced in June by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in an ostensible attempt to make the city’s female residents feel safer and to encourage them to get jobs further away from their homes.
The Delhi government also announced that it would make metro rides free for women. But as it continues to work on the feasibility of that plan, bus rides for women became free on October 29.
One month into its operations, has the scheme moved closer to achieving its objectives?
On the way to West Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, 24-year-old Kanchan Sen said that she no longer hesitated about travelling long distances within the National Capital. In the bus, Sen stood amidst a number of other commuters who were mostly women.
She is a resident of South Delhi’s Chhatarpur and works as a stenographer in Saket, earning a monthly salary of Rs 24,000. Sen found the metro fares expensive and used the bus for her daily 30-minute commute.
Before the scheme started, she spent Rs 40 per day on tickets. Now, Sen calculated that she was saving Rs 1,500 per month on transport costs. “This makes a difference to me,” she said.
Najma Begum, 35, said she was pleased that she could now sit in the air-conditioned buses operated by the Delhi Transport Corporation without having to pay between Rs 20 to Rs 25 for a ticket. A resident of South Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, Begum is a domestic worker in Greater Kailash and earns Rs 7,000 a month. “I do not usually go out except for work but now I can go anywhere,” said Begum, who started working five years ago after her husband died.
Another commuter said the scheme would help her save around Rs 3,000 a month. A resident of South Delhi’s RK Puram, Varsha Pradip Khope, 35, spent Rs 100 daily to take the bus to drop off and pick up her son from his school around 5 kms away in Delhi Cantonment. “I can use that extra money to buy things for myself or for my son,” said Khope, a homemaker.
While most women used the buses for free, some of them also said that they had to spend a little more to use other modes of transport to get from the stop to their destinations.
Forty-eight-year-old Meena Devi is a resident of Sangam Vihar and works as a domestic worker nearly 9 km away in Greater Kailash. She earns Rs 10,000 a month, of which she pays Rs 1,200 as her rent. In addition to using the free bus service, she has to take an auto rickshaw for Rs 20 that drops her to her home.
“I can only reach halfway to my home because the bus route does not enter narrow lanes to get there,” said Devi, who has lived in Delhi for 25 years.
Begum echoed these thoughts. “I will not end up saving much because I have to take an auto to get to my house,” she said.
Delhi was one of the world’s most unsafe megacities for women, according to a survey of 20 cities released by Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017. In the survey, 380 experts living in cities with populations of more than 10 million were also asked to rate the cities on the basis of women’s access to healthcare and economic opportunities.
Despite this, women who spoke to Scroll.in said they felt safer in the buses after the scheme started.
The day before bus rides became free in Delhi, the government announced that it would increase the number of bus marshals to 13,000 from around 3,400, according to The Indian Express. At least one marshal is present in every bus.
“Earlier, men would push us around in the bus,” said Khope. “They would purposely put their hands on me but now that does not happen.”
Nineteen-year-old Delhi University student Kalpana Anna said that the presence of more women in buses has made her feel safer. “Travelling in a DTC bus is now more secure than travelling in a private bus,” said Anna, who earlier spent Rs 60 for her daily commute of 11 kms from Southwest Delhi’s Janakpuri till her campus in Dhaula Kuan.
The scheme to provide free bus rides for women rolled out just as Delhi gears up for its Assembly elections in the early months of 2020. This prompted several women to describe the scheme as a poll gimmick.
“If everything is for free then where will the government get its money from?” asked Anna. She felt that the city had more urgent needs. “Something needs to be done about pollution, security and plastic,” she said. “These are bigger issues than bus fares.”
On the other hand, Sen described the scheme as a “masterstroke” by Kejriwal. “It does look like that but it is good for us,” she said. But she also felt that the benefit of free public transport could have been extended to other groups as well: “This should also go to senior citizens and students who need it.”
Other women strongly felt that Kejriwal had done the right thing. “All women should vote for Kejriwal,” said Khope, to whom it did not matter if the scheme was a poll gimmick. “He wears aam aadmi clothes and dresses like my brother or husband does. People are just jealous of him. What he has done is good for women.”
The government has set aside Rs 150 crore for the scheme till March 2020, said Jasmine Shah of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi, a think-tank that advises the government on policy.
Many have wondered whether the government will be able to find the money to keep the scheme going, even as it fills the shortfall in the fleet. Delhi has around 6,000 buses and needs to increase its fleet to around 10,000.
But Shah said the assumption was faulty. “It is a flawed belief that public transport needs to balance its sheet and that there should be no state support,” he said. “Not more than 30%-50% of public transports costs in the world are met through fare revenues. The rest is either through advertising or through state budgeting.”
What the data indicates
Data compiled by the Delhi government since the start of the scheme on October 29 till November 19 indicates that there has been a gradual increase in the number of women travelling in buses.
These buses are operated either by Delhi Transport Corporation that comes under the Delhi government, or by the Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transport System, which is a joint venture between the government and Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation Foundation.
The data clubs the total number of tickets that are paid for and the pink tickets issued to women in a day and compares it with just the share of the pink tickets.
On the first day of the scheme, the share of the pink tickets was 35% of the total number of bus tickets issued. On November 10, this share rose to 41% and the number of pink tickets was nearly half of the total number of the tickets issued on that day. On November 19, this share increased to 42%.
Even then, the data also shows that the percentage of the pink tickets in a day fluctuates, increasing and decreasing slightly.
The data also shows that the number of pink passes issued in Delhi Transport Corporation buses are higher than the ones issued in buses run by Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transport System.
Bus conductors who spoke Scroll.in said that they were noticing an increase of women passengers in buses since the scheme started.
On the bus route towards Shivaji Stadium in Central Delhi, Ravinder, 33, who has been a bus conductor in Delhi Transport Corporation buses for 10 years, said that he issues around 250 pink tickets within an eight-hour shift every day.
Another bus conductor said he issued around 200 pink tickets in the same shift daily. “The ratio of women to men in the buses has increased,” said Rashid Ali, who worked on the bus en route West Delhi’s Uttam Nagar. “I see a lot of housewives who come to pick up and drop their children from school.”
But despite high numbers, it would be difficult to gauge the long term impact of the scheme, said Shamindra Nath Roy, a senior researcher at Centre for Policy Research. “The long term effect will be more nuanced than one thinks, as it will be interesting to see how many women who are not actually travelling started to travel short distances to expand their market,” he said.