karnataka bus ticket
With effect from June 11, Karnataka women can travel for free in all government-run buses. Picture shows a bus ticket for Rs 0. Image: Twitter

Free bus travel for women: Karnataka model vs TN, other states

On June 1, 2023, Karnataka’s Transport Minister, Ramalinga Reddy, announced the implementation of free bus travel for women in all government-run buses. The scheme, implemented from Sunday (June 11), follows on the footsteps of Delhi, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, which have introduced similar initiatives.

It began in Delhi. The AAP government in Delhi fulfilled one of its election promises with the introduction of the Pink Ticket Scheme. Launched in October 2019, a few months before the 2020 Assembly elections, Delhi became the first state in India to implement widespread free travel for women.

While all the state government schemes aim to empower women to travel without a hitch, the programme contours vary.

Registration requirements

The ‘Shakti’ scheme was one of the five election promises of the Congress in Karnataka. It enables free bus service for women throughout the state, provided they are residents of Karnataka. In comparison, Tamil Nadu’s version of the scheme allows free bus access for all women, irrespective of their place of origin. 

Also read: CM Siddaramaiah launches free bus travel scheme for women in Karnataka

In Karnataka, registration is a must to avail of the free service. Individuals can apply for ‘Shakti’ smart cards through sevasindhu.karnataka.gov.in starting from June 11. Until the smart cards are issued, women must carry a government photo ID card displaying their residential address. However, the implementation of smart cards may introduce complexity for both beneficiaries and the transport corporation. In contrast, the Tamil Nadu government has not imposed any additional terms and conditions apart from the requirement of being a woman. 

The Punjab model

In Punjab and Tamil Nadu, the provision of free bus travel for women is applicable exclusively to government-owned buses, and excludes private buses. Punjab has implemented this scheme across all types of government-owned intra-state buses.

Also read | Free tickets, pink buses: TN in mission mode to ease women’s commute

As part of the scheme, women residents of Punjab are eligible for free bus travel in public buses, such as those run by Punjab Roadways Transport Corporation (PRTC), Punjab Roadways Buses (PUNBUS), and city bus services operated by local bodies. However, the scheme does not apply to government-owned AC buses, Volvo buses, and HVAC Buses. To avail of this facility, women will need to provide documents like Aadhaar card, voter card, or any other proof of residence in Punjab.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin introduced a scheme immediately after taking office on May 7, 2021. Under this scheme, all women in the state can avail free travel on government-owned city and town buses. Notably, the scheme does not provide a specific definition for “working women,” making every woman eligible for its benefits. With no limitations on the number of trips per day or month, the scheme offers a simple and transparent approach by providing unrestricted subsidies for women’s travel.

Also Read: Siddaramaiah to turn ‘bus conductor’ to kick off free bus rides for women on June 11

Tamil Nadu restricts the scheme to government-owned ordinary city and town buses.

Financial hiccups

A memorandum submitted to the Karnataka transport department urges the inclusion of non-Karnataka women, transgender individuals, senior citizens, and students of the state in the scheme. Given that 90 per c ent of buses in the state are privately operated, private operators express concerns about reimbursement under the scheme, fearing potential losses. Similarly, conductors of Tamil Nadu Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) have faced difficulties as they report a decline in incentives based on daily ticket collections since the implementation of the scheme.

Range of buses

In Karnataka, the scheme applies to city buses, ordinary state-run buses (BMTC, KSRTC, NWKRTC, and KKRTC), and express buses, excluding buses that operate outside the state. Luxury buses are also excluded. While BMTC reserves 50 per cent of seats for men, the other three state road transport corporations follow the same practice.

In Tamil Nadu, the scheme is limited to ordinary category buses that travel short distances within the city or town.

Budgeting and progress 

The implementation of this scheme in Karnataka will cost the government approximately Rs 4,700 crore per year, while the Tamil Nadu government allocated Rs 1,600 crore as subsidy in the 2022-23 budget. The scheme is expected to result in a 10 per cent increase in the number of women traveling by buses. According to the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission report, the implementation of the scheme in Tamil Nadu significantly raised the percentage of women passengers from 40 per cent to 61 per cent.

Also read: Free bus travel for women an “economic revolution,” says Stalin

The Delhi government in it’s 2023-24 budget has significantly augmented its funding for women-specific schemes, dedicating Rs 5,740 crore towards initiatives aimed at empowering women. A major focus of this increased allocation will be on providing free bus tickets to women in government-operated buses, enhancing accessibility and promoting women’s participation in public transportation.

Former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had claimed more than three crore women availed the facility of free travel on public transport buses in 2020-21.

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