Lip service for women commuters: The tale of Dimapur’s ‘Pink Bus’

Launched in 2018 with the express aim of facilitating safe and comfortable commute for women, the Pink bus services have neither lived up to their original promise, nor made any significant difference to the overall fleet of public bus transport.

Every day at the main city bus stand in Dimapur, just across the Nagaland State Transport office in the heart of the city, you’ll find a large number of people waiting for the city bus. As the bus arrives, people rush in, in hordes. One really needs to have the physical strength to be able to aggressively push his/her way inside.

Although the city bus comes in at an interval of about 5-10 minutes, this is the scenario every time. It is not uncommon therefore to meet young working women like Chumbayala and Agnes, who have been waiting for quite a while to take the city bus ride home, but are literally pushed out on several attempts, before they can finally board one. “See, this is what happens” they sigh and then laugh in resignation. The duo waits for the next bus; “whichever comes – green or pink,” they say.     

Last year the Nagaland State Transport (NST) department,  introduced the Pink Bus, exclusively for women. Procured through the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) and managed by the NST, these pink buses were meant to facilitate safe and comfortable commute for women while also partially meeting the need for more public transport.

According to officials at the transport office, there are a total of three pink buses that ply from Dimapur city to Chumukedima, about 15 km from the main city. Another two run in the state capital of Kohima. The timings are from 6 am to 6 pm.

But despite the commendable vision behind this first-of-its-kind initiative in the state, the realities of commute in the cities have not changed much. Pink or green, they remain packed like sardines and being able to get in is a matter of luck.

Public transport in Dimapur

Along with the pink buses, Nagaland State Transport has a total of 14 city buses plying across Dimapur city. The average age of the fleet is 8.3 years. Daily commuters include mainly students and office goers and others engaged in daily economic activity. With the city being the main business centre in the state, the rush for local transport is understandable. Besides the city bus, there are private autos, three wheeler rickshaws and a few car taxis.

There is huge rush, particularly in the afternoons when classes wind up and offices begin to close down for the day. While the frequency of city buses ranges from 5-10 minutes on a normal day, the frequency of the pink service is much less, given that there are only three of them. Often, it takes an hour for the next one to arrive at the stand. For women commuting daily, therefore,waiting for a Pink Bus is often not practical. As one woman traveller said, “We never know when it will come.”

A group of girls from SD Jain Girl’s College came to the station for taking the preferred pink service. But as happens often, they miss one and don’t know when the next one will be here. The regular green bus (in the background) is the only alternative. Pic: Ninglun Hanghal

Management student Lipila Jings, who takes the city bus daily, shared that she would much rather take a Pink bus than any other, since it is “comfortable,” but rues that she cannot keep waiting for it. “The Pink bus has no timings,” she says, “so I take whichever bus comes first.”

Open to all?

According to NST Dimapur, two months after its official launch last year, it was observed that the seats in the Pink buses – a total of 34 in each — were never fully occupied. Many, in fact, remained empty. Since then, the service was opened up for elderly/senior citizens, irrespective of gender, and children – with one row reserved for ladies/ women.

Other passengers waiting for the city bus at the bus stops will tell you, however, that since the time that strict rules were relaxed, they just board a Pink bus if it happens to be the first one that comes. Not only is it not ‘only for women’ any longer, but the next step to reserve one row for ladies/women has also come to nought. Nobody bothers –  with everybody just scrambling to get a seat.

Crying need for more buses

And yet, the Pink bus could have been a game changer. For students and common passengers, the city bus remains the most preferred mode of transport, one reason being the low fares. The maximum bus fare is Rs 20 and for many like Lipila Jings, who get down before the last stop, it costs Rs 15 or less.

In comparison “shared autos” — carrying more than one passenger charge Rs 40-50 for a distance of 15 km. Those plying in the city market area and over short distances carry 4-5 persons and charge Rs 10 for each.

Other private local transport such as hired autos, rickshaws and car taxis have no fixed rates. By a rough estimate, private auto rates amount to a minimum of Rs 50 for a distance of 2-3 km in the city, while the rates for car taxis come to a minimum of Rs 50 for a distance of 1 km.

In the absence of metered billing system or official fixed rates, all these charges vary according to the whims of drivers or taxi owners. In general, the better you bargain the lower the rate you get.

Meanwhile, the Nagaland State Transport department struggles to meet the increasing demand for city bus services. As per the 2011 Census, Dimapur has a population of 378,811 — 197,394 male and 181,417 female. This amounts to an increase of 127.29 percent in the population compared to population in the last 2001 census! With only 14 city buses, it is impossible to meet the real volume of demand among commuters.

Besides the huge rush and demand in the city, the inter-district state buses are also unable to cater to the increasing demand. There are only 7-8 daily buses that ply from Dimapur to the state capital Kohima, while about 30 state buses are in service across Nagaland state.

Low fares, high maintenance, under utilisation of fleet, low productivity and inefficient management have placed the NST in a spot financially too. According to a review report on the performance of state road transport undertakings, the NST incurred a net loss of Rs 4,810.96 lakh for the financial year 2015-16.

This has given rise to many private transport services within and out of Dimapur to other parts of the state. The daily scene at the ticket counter just adjacent to the NST station is a sight to behold. Just across the road is the train station, with a large number of private taxis competing for passengers.

In this milieu, it is sad to see the Pink bus losing its ground. Launched as a women’s exclusive, today it has lost that tag. NST officials, drivers or staff are in no position to strictly monitor or administer the large population who use its services in Dimapur city. Neither has it been able to play a significant enough role in meeting the overall need for bus services. In the end, it remains just another token measure without much meaning or implication.

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