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'Ladies Only' bus service in Dhaka City -The Asian Age


Dhaka is one of the fastest growing and highly dense cities of the world. The rapid spread of the city and growth in its population over the past decade has led to a massive demand for transportation.

Even though the country has made good economic progress over the years, urban experts think the capital city still lacks quality bus fleets to match the people's improved lifestyle. In a city inhabited by more than 15 million people, predominantly representing the middle and lower-middle class. There is no well-organized low cost bus transportation system to cater tothese populations.

The existing Public transport system is a major bottleneck for the development of the city. Unplanned urbanization, especially poor transportation planning and low land utilization efficiency has turned in deterioration in accessibility, level of service, safety, comfort and operational efficiency. It has caused increased transportation costs, loss of time, air pollution and psychological strain, and posing a serious risk to the economic viability of the city and the sustainability of its environment.

The only public transport mode available in Dhaka City bus is the cheapest. Public buses in Dhaka City are inadequate in numbers and mostly remain over-crowded which is not accessible for many people, particularly the elderly or disabled and the women.

The Dhaka Metro Regional Transport Committee (DMRTC), the government agency, is providing the route permits to the operator without having analysis of passenger demand and necessity of additional bus companies on the same routes. Most companies are interested to operate the bus in the routes which are profitable. For example, there are about 60 bus routes in Airport road competing each other. For this ill competition, operators are also losing revenues and passengers are not getting their required services.

Bangladesh is having the greater variety of social classes, economic situations and cultural backgrounds in urban contextof developing country.There are greater differences in travel patterns between the female and the male members of the same household. Women are more dependent on public transport than men, especially when they are lower-income. Much of the study shows that poor women often face a higher transport burden than men.

The predominant mode of travel for women of low-income group in Dhaka is walking and rickshaw, which more expensive than public transport. A World Bank study on Dhaka, Bangladesh revealed that 35% of female commuters relied on rickshawsas their sole mode of transport.

Existing bus service in Dhaka City is very poor for both men and women. Due to lack of information, the women travelling by bus for the first time are ignorant about the available services for the desired route. Women passengers arefacing many more problems than men while travelling by bus.

The transport services currently provided by bus are insecure and unsafe for women. They are severely disadvantaged in accessing the existing facilities due to extreme over-crowded buses. Due to cultural background in Bangladesh it is difficult for them to compete with men for getting in the bus and grabbing the seat.

Such inadequate transport services adversely affect women commuters and the constraints of mobility. In general, drivers are not interested to carry women passengers as they are slow mover, have more security problems, take more space, and need a complete halt for boarding or alighting.

Women passengers have long endured groping and verbal abuse every day. The major problems usually they face are hazard of sexual harassment or lack of personal security due to crush loading or overcrowding, bad behavior of the drivers and conductors, long que and waiting time,fare and lack of information about the journey.

Women have very poor accessibility to bus due to overcrowding. Moreover, groping or otherwise touched indecently by the conductors/drivers or male co-passengers is an exasperating reality for women using public bus in Dhaka City.

There are few seats reserved only for women in buses but often those are occupied with men falsely demanding 'equal rights'. The driver nor the conductor makes an attempt to make them available for women. Moreover, often the conductor and gateman announces 'no seats for women are available' toavoid women passengers.

The 'physical harassment' such as groping or otherwise touched in decently is the main problem for women while traveling by bus in Dhaka City. The other problems reported was 'misbehave of conductor/driver', 'problems ofgetting in the bus and off the bus', 'overcrowded and no seat is available',and 'long waiting time', etc.

One study reveals that public transport would be comparatively more convenient, safe, and friendly for women if these problems are tackled. 'Ladies onlybus' service could trigger almost all the above mentioned problems from the statement by thewomen passengers.

Different cities in the world had taken various initiatives to ease the problems of women travelling by public transport. For example, the Mexico City had started a women-only bus service to protect female passengers from groping and verbal abuse which is common in the city's packed public transportation system.

Pakistan also introduced 'women-only' bus service few years ago to tackle the problem of physical harassment of the female travelers. The buses with having male drivers and female conductors started plying in different city routes. The 'women-only bus' has a pink-colored strip all around the bus. Dubai introduced the 'women-only' bus in April 2009.

Women-only coaches in the subway or trains have also appeared in Egypt, India, Brazil, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan. Women-only taxi service are operating in Russia (called 'Pink Taxi') from 2006, in UK (called 'Pink Ladies') from 2006, in Dubai from January 2007, and in Iran.

'Women-only' bus has been introduced also in Japan. All the initiatives of special service exclusively for women was made only for ensuring safe and secured public transport for the women, which is free from groping or physical harassment.

Considering the travel problems of women, in the early 1980s Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) had provided services of 'women only' bus in four different routes of Dhaka City during the peak hours.

After the operation was stopped immediately after some days of its inauguration. Later on, in several times, BRTC resumed the project but could not survive for various reasons. Lastly, again in July 2008, only 5 buses have been launched in one route for 'Ladies-only' bus service. This 'Ladies -only' bus service Women are welcome the service despite several problems and limitations of the service.

Unfortunately, due to poor communication and publicity, most of the women are not aware/informed about the'women-only' bus service, its timing and stoppages. The buses run only to and from Motijheel; consequently, the women from other areas of the city cannot use the service. Housewives and school students cannot avail this service as it is not operating in other times when they need.

The problems of the 'Ladies -only' bus service were identified: (1) seat conditioning is not good; (2) air circulation is poor; (3) no seat reserved for ill or elderly passengers; (4) bus is often overloaded; (5)technical or mechanical problems in few bus as sometimes stop on the busy road.

Despite many problems, and level of satisfaction, for securing themselves while travelling almost all women prefer the 'Ladies-only' bus service very much and in terms of security this isquite comfortable for them.

The women passengers sue to give priority to safe and free from physical harassment then they could think about comfort of the seat or interior design, waiting time, etc. Despite facing various problems,the reasons women compelled to use other buses. They wish to have more 'Ladies-only' bus service in all possible route and fixed service time.

The writer is a legal economist.
Email: mssiddiqui2035@gmail.com