Monday , 24 February 2020

Women, Cities and Transport

Overcrowding creates unsafe experiences but so does absence of people around. The connecting transport facilities, and the presence & absence of security personnel are the other contributing parameters. When we think about the overall design of compartments itself, and it is something which is so standardised and so male-centric that it is not made for the heights of Indian women. We need to move towards gender sensitive design. The not so helpful design elements include gap between footboard & platforms, uneven platforms, location of the hand pole at the door, hand straps that could not be reached without stretching, lack of proper signage and lack of visibility of helpline numbers, uncomfortable & inadequate station furniture such as waiting benches, lack of enough functioning and clean toilets on platforms, toilets that do not have doors, or have windows at weird heights and lack of proper foot over bridges, well maintained stairs & escalators

We need to focus our attention to some invisible groups like Nurses, BPO workers, fisherwoman etc who work long and at odd hours. Their number are increasing and we need to separate them from the stereotyped pattern of community and look at their future needs. Physically challenged women and pregnant women find it difficult to navigate crowded platforms with different kinds of structures which obstruct their movement from the stairs to the coaches.

The next is the Governance issues. Governance issues cover cleanliness & hygiene of toilets, information systems at platforms and improved services.

What is very critical is how do we respond to complaints. We found that there are all these CCTVs and security personnel etc but the overall way in which a woman’s complaint is treated is very critical.

Dr Ashish Verma: Researches show that 92% of women feel unsafe in India’s major cities. It is challenging to take the“Avoid, Shift and Improve” approach by women. There is still lack of knowledge about the perception of safety and issues faced by women while travelling in public buses.

A study was conducted by IISc in Bangalore to assess safety of women commuters in public transport through a questionnaire survey. A well-structured questionnaire, comprising of various questions related not just to their social demographics, but also their preferences and satisfaction levels with types of buses, staff behavior, condition of bus stops, perception of safety while travelling, complaint redressal, image of existing bus services, etc. was used for a detailed understanding.

Out of the survey respondents, 76% women said they felt unsafe at bus stops; 80% of women felt unsafe while boarding and alighting the bus.

This was primarily either due to insufficient lighting at the bus stops or due to lack of well-constructed and maintained footpaths. It is like jumping in and jumping down. Buses seldom stop at stipulated bus stops and are always seen to stop in the middle of the road. This leads to constant fear among female commuters of getting hurt or getting hit by other vehicles on road.

If service gaps in public buses are not taken care of, if they get widened more, we will see that women might shift towards private modes which is shifting them towards a more unsustainable situation.
Dr Ashish Verma

Many of these issues are because of the deficiencies in infrastructure design. It was also interesting to note that42%of women travellerspreferred ordinary buses to luxurious ones such as Volvo buses. Even today, there are upto 33% women travellers who travel daily but still feel unsafe. The other facts that we got out from here: 51% face eve-teasing at bus stops, almost an equal number during travelling and 60% of women who face issues still use bus services. So, in spite of feeling unsafe, they continue to travel due to lack of safer and affordable options. In most of the cases, women don’t go and file a complaint to the police. Twenty percent of them feel there is no guarantee that the complaints would be addressed.

When we looked at the overall factors influencing women’s perception of being safe, we came out with eight different factors through a factor analysis. These include safety at bus stops, lack of safety while boarding and alighting, feeling unsafe among co-passengers, seating in buses, infrastructure and technological issues. It was observed that women who are highly qualified, employed or older feel comfortable with passengers and feel safer while travelling in the public buses. Infrastructure is one of the pivotal factors that influence how safe women feel.

Through a different study, we found that Indian women are less likely to use bicycle for commute trips as compared to Indian men, mainly because of the traditional dresses they have to wear.

Another research focused on young men and women who would go for a car soon after getting a job. The chances of a young woman or a graduating student buying and using a car in the near future are much higher in comparison to men. The preference to buy a car among women is higher if they are able to afford it, when compared to their preference with respect to unsafe public transport.

The present state of transport system infrastructure development is predominantly focusing on the roadways infrastructure, road widening, creating elevated corridors, flyovers, underpasses etc. It is actually encouraging personal mobility, mobility for those who have access to personal vehicles. And this is where women get disadvantaged due to their lesser access to a personal vehicle.

Since there is a higher dependence among women on public transport and NMT, the chances of health impact on women is much higher because of the exposure to pollution and risk of fatality due to road traffic accidents

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