Bus travel may be free for women and transgender people in Bengaluru under the Shakti scheme but the routes don't service all areas, which means commuters have to walk long distances, often carrying heavy loads, to catch a bus. To address the city’s mobility gaps, a women’s collective is demanding four new bus routes.
“While the bus travel might be free, many women don’t have access to the buses as there are no bus routes servicing their localities. They have to walk long distances every day to catch a bus and then, at night, walk home from a distant bus stop. No one feels safe doing that,” says Anitha Rao, 50, a community coordinator at Alli Serona, the women's collective, which conducted audits of bus routes.
Alli Serona (Let’s meet there in Kannada) was launched earlier this year as a collective of civil society organisations, creators and think tanks working together to highlight the needs of informal sector workers in Bengaluru. In April, Alli Serona partnered with ASPA, a Bengaluru-based non-profit, and Bengawalk, an initiative by architect and filmmaker Pravar Chaudhary, and street photographer Puneet Sachdev to conduct community walking audits.
Alli Serona conducted several workshops with about 100 women from nine communities in Hosa nagar, Chikka Banaswadi, Priyanka Nagar and Seegehalli, Byrasandra, LR Nagar, AKG Colony, Vijayanagar, Marathahalli slum quarters. The audits were conducted by women from low-income groups and mostly informal workers. For the audits, they went on walks across the city and audited the first and last mile of women's commutes—the distance between the bus stop and the destination as well as between the person’s home and the nearest bus stop— as well as bus stop facilities, mobility needs and other commuting-related concerns.
Lack of access to public transport has a profound impact on women’s employment opportunities, financial stability, and freedom of movement. “I have to walk 8-9km every day, back and forth to the bus stop in Whitefield, which is the closest one to my home. It not only eats into my time but also leaves me exhausted. Also, late in the evening and at night, I feel unsafe walking home all alone,” says Pavitra, 26, who works as a babysitter in Koramangala and lives in Vijayanagar.
To address these issues, the collective has proposed four new feeder bus routes: Byappanhalli to Banaswadi, KR Puram to Medehalli, Byrasandra to Wilson Garden, and Whitefield to ITPL. The women living in Vijayanagar have also proposed a bus route from Vijayanagar to Whitefield through Nagondanahalli. The audits showed these are some of the most used routes by the informal women workers but there is no proper connectivity to their workplaces and basic necessities such as hospitals and railway stations. For instance, for 800 families in AKG colony, Mahadevapura, the closest bus stop is Kadugodi, which is around 2km away. The bus route they have requested also connects them to Whitefield railway station.
Over 100 women have listed these demands and submitted it to the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), which has said it will conduct an independent survey to check the proposed routes and how many people it would benefit.
The Alli Serona collective is also working on a project to create a model bus stop, which will be installed in different parts of Bengaluru to create awareness about the facilities that a bus stop should ideally have. “There is a need to do more than provide free bus rides. The buses don't run according to schedule, and there aren’t enough running. The proposed routes will make the scheme accessible for more people and bring equity to the forefront,” Rao says.