“Think it’s going to change anything?” a friend asked me when news of the Delhi government’s “free rides for women on public transport” scheme initially made headlines. I was in town for a month from Mumbai and we were being driven to lunch in an air-conditioned car. She’d started perusing the magazines and newspapers stocked in the seatback pockets.
To me, Delhi state’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was all about well-meaning, poorly-planned, poorly-executed, plans like this one.
The initialism “AAP” is itself evocative; “aap” in Hindi means “you”—AAP serves you, the Delhiite breathing the world’s most polluted air, or, in this case, the woman who needs to feel safe in her city. AAP launched the scheme on October 29, 2019, in hopes of empowering women through ensuring their safety on public transport. Increased mobility is, after all, a step towards unencumbered freedom.
According to a survey carried out by an India-based NGO, Praja Foundation, 47 percent of women find Delhi commutes unsafe. Additionally, a UN Women supported survey in Delhi shows 95 percent of women and girls feel unsafe in public spaces. Fears of women’s public safety have been heightened following the high profile gang rape of a young Delhi student in 2012, which resulted in her death.
For the average woman in Delhi, transport is a massive expense in relation to monthly income. In one instance highlighted by Scroll.in, a woman earning a monthly salary of $24,000 rupees ($330), spent $1,500 rupees ($20) on transport each month.
Since the new idea went into effect there was a 10 percent increase in female commuters on buses in the first month. However, the plan has been met with criticism. Amongst other things, money and politics are pain points. Yet, it seems a logical step in the right direction—for both pollution and women’s safety. The move gets a significant number of the city’s population off the roads. The Indian Supreme Court recently voiced concerns over how much money would be lost over the scheme.
“I don’t know if the crumbling [transport] infrastructure can handle it,” I said at the time. My friend folded the newspaper and nodded in agreement as our car pulled in.