Riding Inclusive And Reliable Buses On The Road To Women's Empowerment

Is transportation inherently gender-neutral? Women's travel patterns historically ignored, impacting lives. Discussion on understanding women's needs for better mobility systems.
Image Credit: ORF
Image Credit: ORF

Is transportation gender-neutral by nature? Let’s explore. 

For decades, women’s travelling pattern was neither recorded nor analysed to shape public transportation, affecting every aspect of their lives and the nation at large. Today, let's discuss what we know about women’s travelling needs and wants and how can we build better mobility systems tailored to them. 

In the absence of historic women-centric travelling data, we can start by listening to women travellers: "It is unsafe to take a bus at night because of the long waiting time at a bus stop. No lights and fewer women on the streets while walking back home is very scary and makes me anxious". While this quote was featured in a World Bank blog, many of us have heard women in our lives share similar experiences, perhaps in different words.

Women Get To Work Differently Than Men 

For a lot of women in the country, buses are one of the only modes of transport they can afford. Affordability is such a key factor that reportedly they tend to choose slower means of transport as faster modes are generally more expensive.

Now add it to the fact that women commuters combine several errands in multiple short trips – called trip chaining - thus they end up paying more for their daily travel. Often labelled as the ‘pink tax’, it’s the price women pay for ease of mobility in urban areas. So if they find buses unreliable and can’t afford any other means, how do they get to work, markets, or home? 

More women tend to walk to work compared to men precisely 45.4 per cent of women go to work by foot versus 27.4 per cent of men. That’s just the tip of the inequality iceberg - the Observer Research Foundation recently revealed that more than half of Indian women reported turning down education and job opportunities due to feelings of insecurity during transport.

This not only obstructs the development of half the nation's population but limits the growth potential of our country's GDP. 

Tech Interventions To Enhance The Reliability Of Public Mobility For Women 

As reported by thousands of women participants in a study by the Observer Research Foundation, the main reasons buses feel unsafe are over-crowding, endless waits at bus stops especially during odd hours, and the absence of technological safety features like surveillance and real-time trackability. 

Integrating these technologies into India’s public mobility system is not a distant vision; it is already a reality. In collaboration with various State Transport Unions, our transport technology company, Chalo, has successfully equipped 15,000 buses across the country with GPS trackers.

This innovative solution empowers users to track buses in real time, providing accurate arrival predictions. It proves especially beneficial for women during unconventional hours, allowing them to minimise wait times at bus stops at night and in unfamiliar neighborhoods. 

We know we can do more than live tracking to enhance the lives of female travellers— by introducing additional features such as live crowd indicators, CCTV monitoring, and crew training in effective harassment response.

These features motivate more women to take the bus and access employment opportunities. We know this because Chalo has started implementing these features across the nation. 

In the years to come, consumer data collected by our bus ticket booking app will further deepen our insights into women’s nuanced needs and travel behaviours. This valuable data will help us build and rebuild a bus system that is reliable and custom-tailored to truly empower all its passengers. 

Women In The Mobility Workforce 

While it’s important to get women seats on the bus, it’s equally important to put them in the driving seats. One reason women were excluded from the mobility system as consumers is that they weren’t in the room as decision-makers. This needs to change. To help the mission, we are actively working on implementing crew-training programs for female drivers, reserving 20 per cent of positions for women in the field force, and securing their representation in leadership roles. 

Be it raising awareness for tech-powered features like live tracking or promoting women in the mobility workforce, it can only be achieved when more and more Indians know about this issue and start caring. Together, we can build a future where mobility is seamlessly woven into the very fabric of inclusivity. 

By Priya Singh, Co-founder and Director, Chalo Mobility 

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