GUWAHATI, April 1 - Problems have always been galore for the marginalized section and for women hailing from such low income background, even accessing and using public transport has emerged as a big headache. Though they have faced the mobility challenges with patience, these women want a change in the situation and intervention by the authorities concerned to ensure increased and secured accessibility to public transport.
Apart from the safety issue, exploitation of the marginalized women is a regular feature in public transport like city buses and trekkers. According to a recent study conducted by the North East Network, Guwahati, Centre for Urban Equity, Ahmedabad and the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection, Guwahati, conflicts over coins (change) is a common problem reported by poor women.
�A very common problem reported by poor women was that conductors did not return the �change� promptly. Domestic workers and daily wage workers found themselves more vulnerable in situations like these, often facing abuse when they demanded their money. The participants of our study reported that the nature of the conductor�s response was often determined by the class the passenger appeared to belong to,� said a functionary of the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection. The city has around 1,450 buses, of which 1,200 are privately-operated and 250 by the Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC).
The city bus system which is complemented by the trekkers is no better option for women. Many women have faced situations when trekkers after promising to go up to a certain destination, abandon them mid way. �Trekkers are costlier than city buses but compelled by circumstances women have to use this mode of transport,� said the functionary.
Another challenge for women is the behaviour of co-passengers in overcrowded vehicles. Such overcrowded buses and trekkers present opportunities to some men to stand close to women and indulge in unnecessary pushing and shoving against female bodies. Unfortunately if women protested they were told to get down and the perpetrator went scot free.
The study found that women, to avoid crowded buses, waited for a long time or started their journey early in the morning so that they could get into a less crowded bus which significantly increased the length of their work day.
In areas where frequencies of buses are low such as on the NH-37 Highway and other peripheral roads, women preferred trekkers. Women in this study coming from locations such as Dhirenpara and Lalmati were frequent users of trekkers whereas women in Bhaskar Nagar, Shibanagar and Lakhtokia often used city bus service. As per the study, most women travelled long distances to work, often travelling more than seven kilometres per day which is high when compared to the average trip length of 4.1 kilometres in Guwahati. A majority of them travelled between 21 to 80 kilometres per week.
Given the high dependence of women on public transport (unlike men), the study has called upon the policy makers to increase routes and frequency of buses, to regulate the trekkers, ensure that the bus stops are well illuminated and distance between consecutive bus shelters on any road is not more than 500 metres. It has been pointed out that increased accessibility will make women feel safer in public spaces.