India

Delhi metro: Will free public transport make women safer?

Indian commuters travel in the compartment reserved for women on the metro in New Delhi, India, on June 10, 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Kejriwal has proposed free travel on buses and the city's famed Delhi metro rail service

The chief minister of India's capital Delhi created a minor sensation when he announced that women would no longer have to pay for public transport.

Arvind Kejriwal said that free rides on city buses and the metro would help improve women's safety in the city.

Delhi reports some of the highest numbers of rape in India. The 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in the city sparked massive protests.

However not everyone is convinced that Mr Kejriwal's proposal will help.

Dinesh Mohan, a transport expert with the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, told the BBC that making public transport free wouldn't solve the problem.

"You need to think about the entire journey and not just the metro - you have to take into account how safe or unsafe sidewalks are and what the journey to the metro station is like in the first place. So if the idea is to make it safer for women, that experience has to be continuous. Safety can't begin and end at the metro station. I don't see any thought behind this initiative yet."

The Delhi metro already reserves a coach exclusively for women on every train it runs.

On social media, the proposal caused a great deal of debate as well.

Many people, including economists and columnists, dismissed the idea and some women even said that they would continue to pay to ride the metro.

However the proposal also had its share of defenders.

Despite Mr Kejriwal's announcement, women will have to wait a while to see if it is actually implemented.

The proposal still has to be approved by the federal government because it is an equity partner along with the Delhi government in the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

But Mr Kejriwal has said that the federal government's permission is not necessary as the Delhi government will bear the cost.

Delhi transport minister Kailash Gahlot said since this qualifies as a subsidy, they did not require any such permission.

Some have dismissed the entire thing as a pre-election gimmick by Mr Kejriwal - Delhi will hold state assembly elections next year.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has not officially reacted to the news. But the Times of India newspaper quoted a "source" in the department as saying that implementing the proposal, if it came to pass, would be "difficult".

Architect and urban planner Sonal Shah said on Twitter that a number of factors had to be taken into consideration for women's safety to be addressed effectively. She said that transport access was "not equal for men and women", adding that a number of existing issues with public transport had to be addressed first.