By Asha Mary Alexander*

Feminists and free thinkers have long been informing us that women are as good (or even better) than men in every sphere of life. They have exposed  how women have long been discriminated against in educational and job opportunities. Despite the efforts taken for women empowerment over the years, the underrepresentation of women is still a stark reality.

Back in my college days, I dreaded taking the bus to class. I would have to start at least an hour ahead to reach in time. I had to walk for 20 minutes along a road that had no footpaths, wait for the cars to slow down, so as to cross the road at a junction with neither signals nor zebra crossing. And after all of this I had to wait! The waiting was not for the bus, but to be able to board a bus. A bus would arrive every two minutes, but it would stop at least 20 metres away from where I was standing. I never ran towards the bus for fear of embarrassing myself. And then, finally, when I managed to get into one of the overcrowded buses, the conductor would press past me and ask me to move towards the backside of the bus (Why couldn’t I stand where I wanted to?!). After another 15-20 minutes of struggling in the midst of all the mayhem in the bus, I would have to get down and bargain with an auto driver to drop me off at college. All for a distance of less than 10 km!

The whole process was so strenuous and time consuming that I permanently switched to using my two-wheeler. I could now reach college in less than half the time, at half the effort and expense, and also run errands since it was so much more flexible than the public transit. My parents also prompted me to use my two-wheeler, because I never felt safe to return home after staying back late for college events and practices.

When one thinks of it, a two wheeler is so convenient to use in our city. It helped me get involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities within and outside college. The valuable hours I saved by opting to use my private vehicle were put into running errands, attending events and social gatherings.

In Kochi, more than 13 per cent of the households are female headed. With the traditional categorisation of women homemakers and working men long gone, today’s women play multiple roles in their everyday lives leaving them with very little time to spare on travelling. The inefficiency of the present public transit network of Kochi makes it time consuming; it is thus less preferred. Using private vehicles helps women save considerable time- it enables them to navigate easily through shortcuts and a two-wheeler can be parked almost anywhere. It increases work efficiency too.

This is not just the case with working women. In Kochi, 66 per cent of the total non-working population are women.  But even they can’t be found using the various modes of public transport as expected. What they have to tell about this is quite interesting. The travel needs of non-working women include running household errands, accompanying their children to schools/bus stops, and occasionally participating in social gatherings. These trips are generally short and made in varied timings. Our public transport system is not designed to cater to these requirements. Interior routes within residential areas are not covered, often leaving women with no option than walking or using an auto rickshaw or taxi, which is also quite expensive. Thus, there are always less females than males in most buses in Kochi.

Importantly, this trend exists despite Kochi being one of the few cities in India with a female dominant gender ratio of 1049 female per 1000 males. Certain changes like adjusting bus timings and routes will help reflect these numbers in our public transit system. Gender action plans have to be included in the transport planning process and women have to be made a part of the overall design and planning process. Interaction with non-working women will help in better understanding their travel patterns and requirements.

Also, the path from the bus stop to their homes needs to be made safer by installing street lights, CCTV surveillance and safety options for last mile connectivity. With more women embracing public transit, safety concerns will automatically get addressed. Cheaper modes of transport like shared autos can be provided along connecting roads within residential areas for use by women. To uproot the prejudice in public transport, it is prudent to redefine the transit system to accommodate the varied needs of women in our society.

*This article is written by Asha Mary Alexander (Research Intern at CPPR). Views expressed by the author is personal


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