OpenBag: Kelly Donohue – Woman on Transit

Transit systems are mirrors of the  cities they serve. How? Well take (metaphorically or physcially) the Subway in New York – they’re kinda clean, kinda dirty, diverse, mostly on time, aggressive, and have a lot of character.  San Francisco’s BART is clean, well let, seemingly well maintained and a little funky.

Kelly Donohue spent several months in New Delhi and had a realization of the city based on its Metro system; it’s crowded, hectic, fast, quickly modernizing and maintains a strong tie to its religious and historic past. The behavior of some men on the metro, though, doesn’t reflect so well: woman are subject to groping and inappropriate harassment.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the operator of the Metro,  began to take the problem seriously in October 2010,by implementing women-only cars. One car on each train is designated for women only. These cars are enforced by exacting fines against men who attempt to ride in the women-only cars; over 20,000 men were fined the equivalent of about one day’s salary since the DMRC implemented women-only cars.

Woman-only cars have existed for about 100 years, making a brief 6 month appearance in New York and New Jersey’s PATH train (nee H&M Railroad) in 1909. London, Tokyo, Paris and many other cities have implemented woman only cars at one time since then. A dozen other countries offer women-only public transportation services including cities in Japan, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Brazil and Russia.

In Delhi, woman-only cars are usually designated by pink signs and glitzy signage. They are generally self-policing, rarely staffed with guards to keep men off them. Kelly stated how she felt safer and more comfortable travelling in the woman-only cars. A sense of commaraedrie has developed among women riding the train.  The cars provide a defensible area of space to fight off men. And most importantly, the cars empower woman to ride transit more. India is on the path to becoming more progressive and a more equal society.

Do woman-only transit  encourage for woman to ride train or does it contribute to a paternalistic worldview showing that women need to be isolated to be safe?  Is it the first step towards building a equitable society by allowing women to commute to work and school and feel safe? And does it show that a society is on track to become more equal or is it a Jim Crow law with a pink wrapper?