First Female Bus Driver In Delhi Just Started Work, & It's A Move Toward Safety For Women On Public Transportation

In one of the most overpopulated cities in the world, public transportation is a pretty key resource. As anyone living in midtown Manhattan knows, it's tough to navigate a city where car travel is virtually impossible at many hours of the day. Every major urban center approaches this problem differently: In New York, most people use the subway, while in other cities like Delhi, buses are the most common form of public transportation. They're cheap, easy to use, and there is no confusing technology involved (*cough* monorail). And to make things better, Delhi's system just got an upgrade: The first female bus driver in Delhi just started her route.

In this major Indian city, the bus service — Delhi Transportation Corporation — is so popular that they can't keep up with demand. The city is facing unprecedented bus shortages, leading transport minister Gopal Rai to announce this week that the city will add 1,000 more buses to their regular service. Currently, the bus systems runs about 1,500 vehicles, but until yesterday, none of those buses had a woman at the wheel. Vankadarath Saritha, 30, now runs Bus 543. This isn't her first driving gig — she drove an auto rickshaw for years before applying to become a bus driver. According to India's Headlines Today, Saritha was selected as one of only seven women who applied to the job.

Saritha told The Indian Express:

I started driving an auto-rickshaw in my mid-20s. It was in 2011 that I first drove a bus — it was more of a minibus — in Hyderabad. It gave me the confidence to earn a livelihood with dignity.

She said she would be a responsible driver, fulfilling all her duties, including looking out for the safety of her passengers. She told The Indian Express:

I will never overtake or drive rashly. I will park the bus only in designated space and not pay heed to those who try to wave down the bus on the middle of the road. I will not indulge in over-speeding. It does not matter if I get a bit late.

And she told Business Standard:

I will ensure that all the female passengers of my bus have a safe journey. I will pick them from stands and drop them there. I will not jump red signals. We are given all the facilities right from CCTV camera to police helpline numbers in case of emergencies. I will stand by my female passengers.

Rai said the DTC would "explore ... making appointments of more women drivers in the future."

So, why is it such a big deal that Saritha is the first woman bus driver in the city? Unfortunately, public transportation does not have a history of being an especially safe place for Indian women. Sexual assault on buses is such a common problem that Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation plans to run a fleet of women's-only buses, which will operate both on long routes and within the city. UPSRTC also plans to install CCTV cameras in the buses to monitor passengers' conduct. Regional service manager Jaideep Verma said:

The women security issue in the buses has been taken seriously by the transport ministries so a big chunk of the amount will be spent in providing safety to women travelling in public transport. It has been planned to tackle the menace of sexual crimes against women by providing special city buses.

The capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, has already implemented women's-only buses to curb sexual assault, but there are no female drivers even within that system. Dharma Raj Rimal of the National Federation of Transport Entrepreneurs told Reuters:

We want to gradually employ female drivers and conductors in these vehicles. But it is hard to find them.

So major props to Saritha, who is helping to change the face of public transportation in India, one bus at a time.