A grand initiative
"In a deeply unequal country, where women still have to take money from their fathers, husbands and sons for every small expense, free bus travel will give women independence and an opportunity to fulfil their dreams! #DilliMeinLadiesFirst" is the message put across Aam Admi Party's Atishi Marlena through a tweet as the Delhi government took a revolutionary step and the occasion of Bhai Dooj, a Hindu festival that celebrates brother-sister bond, to gift optional free bus rides to women in the national capital and Noida-NCR. In addition to the Delhi government rolling out free bus travel scheme for women, a total of 13,000 marshals have been deployed in public buses to ensure the safety of women on board. This is a move with major positive impact as it not only unburdens women from the expenses of travelling by bus, it also opens up numerous options and scope for them paving way for greater self-reliance and independence. Although Delhi Metro has been a lifeline of the city, its increasing fares have kept it nearly closed for a class of women for whom bus travel remains popular due to the distances they have to travel and the means they have to live within. About 11 per cent of Delhi's work force is women. With this initiative of facilitating free bus transport to women, more women will be encouraged to work and generate more income for the family as a primary benefit. Delhi Chief Arvind Kejriwal put it squarely that the country can progress when the women progress. The travel scheme offers free rides to women in the national capital in over 55,000 state-run buses and women travelers will be given pink tickets in Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and cluster buses to avail the free-ride scheme. The Chief Minister sent out a tweet more relatably in Hindi: "Pink Ticket... I send heartiest greetings on Bhai Dooj to all the sisters of the Delhi family. May you stay safe and progress... The country can progress only when women progress...". With a view to boosting the economy of the national capital, this new travel scheme for women also ensures better safety of the female passengers. In the city known for having high rates of crimes against women, stepping up their security by means of this scheme is a very favourable provision. Earlier, 3,400 marshals were deployed in the public buses and this has been increased to 13,000, making this security initiative one of a global standing. The Delhi government will reimburse transporters based on the number of pink tickets issued. The announcement of this free bus travel scheme for Delhi's women was made by Kejriwal in his Independence Day speech. On August 29, the Delhi cabinet had given in-principle approval to the scheme of providing free bus rides to women with a rider on female employees of the city government that they have to give up their transport allowance to avail the facility.
In celebration of this significant pro-people move, the question to also surface is about how the compensation of the free travels be made so that the government does not incur loss. This initiative is funded entirely by the Government of Delhi, which has set aside Rs 140 crore for its implementation over the five months from October 29, 2019, to March 31, 2020. For every free journey undertaken by a female commuter, the Delhi government will extend a flat subsidy of Rs 10 to DTC and DIMTS (Delhi Multi-Modal Transit Ltd) under which the city's public bus fleet operates. This well-planned integrated approach comes keeping in mind about 42 lakh individuals who commute through buses in Delhi every day on an average. Official estimates hold that around 33 per cent of the total ridership comprises of women. And a city of nearly 2 crore people, just about 11 per cent of the workforce of Delhi comprises women. This economically planned initiative is directed towards the empowerment of women in the city, and in the process, betterment of the city as a whole. DTC is an entirely state-run organisation and has a fleet of 3,781 buses. Another 1,808 privately-owned cluster buses are operated and managed by the DIMTS. The average fleet utilisation of DTC buses is 84.63 per cent and that of cluster buses is higher, at 98.6 per cent. The Delhi government's Finance Department had extended a need-based model suggesting that waivers, if at all, should be given only to women from the EWS category, citing the sluggish growth rate of the city's tax revenue and DTC's losses while making the recommendation. Questioning the rationale behind the proposal to provide a flat subsidy of Rs 10 per commute, irrespective of the distance travelled, the Finance Department had also expressed apprehensions about the capacity of the existing bus fleet to handle the potential jump in ridership after the implementation of the scheme. Critics have reasonable doubts but as an initiative with respect to the end it aims for, this experiment is worth conducting. With respect to the concern of security of women, however, last mile connectivity remains an area to be attended to.