Women Traveling in Buses

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Using public transport in Karachi is never a joyous experience. If unfortunately, you are required to do so, there are a number
of surprises waiting to welcome you.

The drivers of our buses, taxis and rickshaws are highly gifted with superior driving skills, able to maneuver their vehicles in the tiniest of space and (supposedly) get their passengers to their destinations (sometimes final) in the least possible time. In how many pieces; is yet another story.

Adherence to traffic rules is the least of their worries. All that counts is the ability to overtake every other vehicle on the road. They have an extended vocabulary of profanities showered on whoever displeases them, be it the pedestrians, fellow drivers or even the poor traffic signal. Horns, it seems to be their belief,
is a magic incantation that will ward off all the other vehicles from the road, thus they use it to its maximum effect. Filthy seats and gazillion nails, splinters or upturned metal linings remind you that
public transport and formal dressing can hardly go together.

Of all these wonders of public transport, buses are in my opinion the embodiment of public travel woes. Add to the aforementioned features, blaring music (usually the unbearable hit Indian numbers), abrupt braking, pan stains, spittle and God knows what on the sidesand floor of the bus. You will be very lucky, if you get a place to sit. If not you are always welcome to travel standing. If there is no place in the bus even that is no problem, you can sit on the roof or hang on the door.

Boarding these buses requires its own set of skills. One’s visual senses must be par excellence in order to make out the route number pasted among the many glittering adornments, although people hard of hearing will have no problem with volume but familiarity with the language used by the conductors is a prerequisite as you need to be acquainted with the nicknames they come up for the various stops to understand where the bus is
headed.

Being an experienced marathon runner would be a qualifying attribute as it will allow you to make a run for it, as buses are prone to stop at leisure with total disregard to the designated stops.

Of this whole colorful experience, women travelers get the worst in
the deal. Although there are separate compartments for ladies the space allotted is very small with no proper seating. Usually, women have to sit on hot engine-seats. They have to put up with misbehaving conductors, who will often try to touch while taking fare. Another common complaint is of molesting and poking fingers by the male passengers especially to women sitting on the seat
placed with the dividing grill. Some will hang on the door or stand on the footboard making it difficult for women to get in or out of the bus. They ogle at fellow female passengers and from the moment a lady steps into a bus there are instantly dozens of pairs of eyes on her.

According to a paper presented in “Transportation Research Board” annual meeting 006, among all the problems faced by women, the worst is of limited seats. The space allotted amounts to
less than a quarter of the total seating capacity. As opposed to males they cannot hop on the roof or hang on the footboard if there’s no space inside. To top it, all the males without the slightest
inhibition will take a vacant seat in the ladies compartment with complete disregard to the discomfort caused to the other women  present.

Even in the newly introduced green buses, the males most conveniently forget that the front portion is reserved for ladies and happily usurp the space discouraging other females from boarding the bus.

Why the drivers and conductors turn a blind eye to all this is obvious. Firstly, they will have to give up their fares, if they don’t allow men in the vacant ladies compartment. Secondly, they are most likely to be beaten out of their shirts for trying to resist. So often they themselves will refuse to let women board buses during peak hours.

What should be done is that the two sections should be completely separate allowing zero possibility for someone to switch places within the bus. Better still there should be buses reserved completely for females. This project was started about two years back by the green bus company. All-female buses were introduced in Lahore too but nobody knows what became of them.

Women need to travel for work, education, household errands and social calls. They comprise an integral part of a country’s workforce and significantly contribute to economic advancement. Unfortunately, in our country more women are opting to stay at home rather than pursue career goals for want of better  transportation facilities. A transport system that is sensitive to their needs will not only be a welcome development for women at large but will raise female education and employment levels undoubtedly affecting a positive impact on the economy.

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