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.