Recently, I read news about Karnataka state government announcing free bus rides for women in the state. It was in the Indian National Congress’ pre-election guarantee, so no big surprise on the announcement. I wondered what changes this announcement makes in terms of people’s lives, even when the Delhi government announced such a scheme earlier. I thought such a decision is far from attaining any real goals of women safety and is only an easy way for politicians to earn some goodwill in the name of gender equality, rather than doing any long term work for gender equality. Earlier when I saw advertisements of providing free bus tickets by the Delhi government, they never mentioned any claims on what this move is intended for. One thing I could infer was that greater number of women going out may impact safety, but I was overall not sure on what this policy achieves.

I got a new perspective on the issue when, a couple of days ago, I read an article by The Guardian on the same topic. Then I found another article with similar arguments in the Indian Express. Later I read a report in the Times of India on how free bus ride scheme helped women in Chennai. These writeups shed light on the benefits of free bus rides to women which I could not think of myself (shows my ignorance:( ).

You can click on the links of the articles and read them there. But I will summarize here: In India, many women rely on family males for money (which is also used as a form of control) and so they have to rely on their savings to travel. I also had misconception, due to the scheme’s counterpart in Delhi, that the fares of city buses are not much to make a real difference. But in the Karnataka case they are. I know from my experience that Karnataka’s capital city Bengaluru has expensive public transport compared to other Indian cities. For example, bus fare from Bengaluru Airport to Satellite Bus station, which is also in Bengaluru, was 246 Indian Rupees six years ago, and I have never seen such a high price in a city bus run by government within any other Indian city. Also, due to scheme being available in the whole state, which I somehow overlooked, women will be able to get free rides for which they would have to pay huge amount otherwise. This will boost their savings, ease travel for women, increase the number of women in public transport leading to even more women travelling in buses. It is also expected to increase women participation in labour which matters in a country where women labour participation is very low. Obviously, such a scheme also needs to be evaluated in terms of economic terms and bigger picture of state finances, but the point is that the scheme has a lot of potential and upsides, where I struggled to find any.

Recently, I came across news about the Karnataka state government announcing free bus rides for women in the state. This initiative was part of the Indian National Congress’ pre-election guarantee, so the announcement did not come as a big surprise. It made me ponder the impact of such a decision on people’s lives, especially considering that the Delhi government had previously introduced a similar scheme. I questioned whether this move truly contributes to women’s safety or if it merely serves as a superficial gesture by politicians to gain favor under the guise of gender equality, without addressing the root causes of gender inequality.

Previously, when I saw advertisements for free bus tickets provided by the Delhi government, they lacked clarity on the intended purpose of the initiative. While one could speculate that encouraging more women to travel might affect safety, I remained uncertain about the actual objectives of this policy.

My perspective on the issue shifted when I read an article by The Guardian a few days ago, followed by a similar piece in the Indian Express. Subsequently, I came across a report in the Times of India highlighting the positive impact of the free bus ride scheme on women in Chennai. These articles illuminated the benefits of free bus rides for women, revealing insights that had eluded me initially.

While you can access the articles through the provided links for detailed information, I will summarize the key points here: In India, many women depend on male family members for financial support, which can also serve as a means of control. Consequently, they often dip into their savings to cover travel expenses. Contrary to my earlier assumption, influenced by the Delhi scheme, the bus fares in Karnataka do make a significant difference. Notably, Bengaluru, the capital city of Karnataka, has relatively expensive public transport compared to other Indian cities. For instance, the bus fare from Bengaluru Airport to the Satellite Bus station, both within Bengaluru, was 246 Indian Rupees six years ago, a price point I had not encountered in government-run city buses elsewhere in India.

Furthermore, I overlooked the fact that the scheme is applicable statewide, meaning women across Karnataka can access free rides that would otherwise incur substantial costs. This initiative is poised to enhance women’s savings, facilitate easier travel, boost female ridership on public transport, and potentially increase women’s participation in the workforce—a crucial aspect in a country where female labor force participation rates are notably low. While it is essential to evaluate such schemes in economic terms and consider their implications on state finances, it is evident that this initiative holds significant potential and benefits, which were not immediately apparent to me.