Free Metro Ride for Women: Step for Women Empowerment or a Political Gimmick

Recent announcement in June 2019 by the Delhi Chief Minister, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, to make metro and bus rides free for women in Delhi, has sparked off a row on the key implications of the proposal as regards to its viability, need, financial impact and above all impact on women’s mobility, which is also linked to education, employment and access to public spaces.

 

The back ground to arrive at such a decision is not without a strong base and the target is the low income group women who wish to get proper education leading to employment but are kept immobile due to various reasons and compulsions. 

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The Back Ground
With the orthodox mindset of the families, especially lower strata, migrants from other states, poor women coming from rural areas in search of employment, low income group brides joining the new families in Delhi have to face the brunt of unemployment, lack of mobility due to financial restrictions among others. Delhi, therefore, instead of becoming an example of well civilized advanced city offering equal status and empowering the women, has become a nightmare for the safety and security of the women.   

 

In a country like India, public transport in metropolitan city like Delhi is the backbone for mobility. A large chunk of population makes use of buses, cabs, carpools and metro to reach from one place to another. While a large amount of people travels though Metro, there is still some numbers who do not have access to same. To some female travelers, public transport like cabs, bus service, and even metro have not been safe, while many others are unable to afford its rising fares.

 

In this regard, on demand by Government of Delhi, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has prepared a plan for Women which will grant them free metro rides, if successfully implemented. DMRC has also shared that implementing the free travel for women scheme would result in an annual loss of around Rs.1560 crore, out of which Rs. 11 crore will be incurred in its feeder buses. At present DMRC is operating a fleet of 174 feeder buses and plans to add 905 buses soon.

 

The DMRC Free Metro Ride for Women: Scheme
The details of the plan are given below:

  • On June 3, Arvind Kejriwal had first announced that Delhi Government is working on a proposal to offer free rides to women in Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses, cluster buses as well as the Delhi Metro.
  • DMRC has prepared two short term plans for the implementation of the free metro rides and has presented it to the Delhi government. The DMRC has claimed that implementing the free metro scheme for women will lead to an annual loss of around Rs.1560 crore.
  • Arvind Kejriwal has stated that the Delhi government will pay the expenses to the DMRC for the plan.
  • DMRC has suggested two stop-gap options to the Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government while expressing concerns over the large scale misusage of the free-travel scheme.
  • For the short term, the first option consists of altering the automatic fare collection (AFC) system and identifying the beneficiaries with new preloaded smart cards.
  • The second short term option involves benefitting to single journey side with new tokens and conducting manual checks at the station gates.
  • Both these options will take at least six to eight months to be implemented and is likely to create losses for the long term solutions.
  • In the long run, DMRC offers to change its fare collection scheme by the introduction of non transferable smart cards, in case the Free ride scheme continues 
  • Government of Delhi plans to implement the scheme in 2-3 months 

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Free Metro Rides: The Pros

  • Many Women remain immobile due to lack of money with them. Mobility of many others is restricted by families by imposing financial control upon them. With meagre amount available with them, they are left with no alternative but to opt for the cheapest public transport or walk.
  • Many women workers carry their children with them to work place
  • The free Metro ride plan will remove cost barriers and will improve women’s access to transport leading to employment, education and public spaces.
  • The facts reveal that women in urban areas do not get more employment opportunities. The data show that India’s female labour force participation rate in cities is lower than in rural areas. In Delhi alone, more than 19 million people are living but only less than 12% women above the age of 15 years are in employment, as compared to the national average of 27%.
  • The scheme may encourage women to participate in public transportation as their daily means of travelling. Due to costless metro and bus journeys, many underprivileged women commuters will feel the autonomy to travel through public transport and join their work place.
  • Not only will it boost the participation but it will make the public transportation safer. AAP’s Atishi Marlena has stated that free travel in bus and metro will make the travel safer as more women would be joining the public means of commuting and more public spaces would be claimed by women.

Free Metro Ride: Cons

  • Although the scheme will benefit in women’s participation in public transportation, it is not accurately targeting the right population. Women belonging to upper socio-economic status have the financial capacity to pay the cost to ride in public transport and need not be the recipient of the scheme.
  • As stated by DMRC report, due to this scheme, the Delhi metro will have to bear a loss of Rs. 1560 crore on annual basis. In a condition like today’s, where India is still developing and making efforts to strengthen the economy, a financial loss as such on an annual basis does not seem to be just.
  • DMRC has also raised concerns over large scale misuse of the free-travel scheme as it depends on manual checks. It has very high risk of misuse by individuals as well as misuse in organised manner. The 8 pages proposal of DMRC says that the amount spent on the scheme will be in-fructuous.
  • The last mile connectivity from residence or work place to Metro also imposes financial burden. The rising costs, reach and reliability of such feeder services can obstruct women’s access to Metro
  • Operational issues in the scheme have not duly taken care of.
  • Despite AAP's reasoning for implementing the scheme, many opposition party leaders including Manoj Tewari said the move is an attempt to win votes in the assembly polls due next year in Delhi. It could be a political stunt and a way to lure specifically female voters.
  • Former Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) chief E Sreedharan has termed the proposal a bad idea. And has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to 'disagree' with Delhi government's proposal for providing free Metro ride to women.
  • Contradicting the proposal, Sreedharan said that if ladies are to be given free travel concession in Delhi Metro, it would set an alarming precendence to all other Metros in the country. The argument of Delhi government that the revenue losses would be reimbursed to DMRC is a poor solace. The amount involved in about 1,000 crores per annum today. This will go on increasing as the Metro network expands and with further fare hikes on the Metro

The Road Ahead & Efforts Made
Some have criticized the offer of free public transport for women as discriminatory against (working class) men, Kejriwal has drawn attention to the problem of women’s safety.

  • A women in Delhi jumped off the moving gramin sewa van because she felt unsafe as a lone female passenger. The increased presence of women on public transport will contribute towards making it friendlier for women.
  • Despite arguing for their mobility, women with meagre means are not able to ride Metro due to high fare or have to walk to the Metro station.
  • Poor women working on various sites or offices, factories have to take children with them to the work place.
  • The move is needed to remove cost barriers as it will improve women’s access to transport leading to employment, education and public spaces.
  • The connectivity to Metro through Feeder bus service, Gramin Sewa, E-rickshaw at very low cost has to be ensured as they may ensure better accessibility to the metro network, otherwise the costs, reach and reliability of such feeder services can still obstruct women’s access to public transport.
  • The gramin sewa has been the most common mode of transport. It was introduced in 2010 to reach the urban villages of Delhi, where services of Delhi Transport Corporation are limited. Although Gramin Sewa is not very reliable service, women use it because it is cheaper than autos
  • Recently, DMRC has announced “multi-modal integration” at 61 metro stations to make available more transport options at metro stations, whether by e-rickshaws, autos, or cabs, by providing them with parking spaces.
  • Minimising the costs of connectivity by providing direct and affordable transport can be a step towards addressing the problems women face in seeking, entering and retaining employment. If successful, it can serve as a model for other Indian cities.

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