Indian Initiatives to Make Travel Safer for Women

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Shocking assaults on women traveling in India have galvanized innovators to find solutions. One solution that is proving successful is to establish specialist taxi services for women. As a happy additional benefit, these taxi innovators are transforming the taxi experience, introducing more ethical practices such as honest fares, professional and safe driving habits and clean, hygienic and comfortable taxis.

With sexual harassment levels high and several shocking assaults and rapes of women in Indian cities grabbing global media attention, Indian women are now being offered a variety of women-driver-only taxi services to ensure they get to work and home again safely.

As well as offering their passengers security, these companies are also redefining the taxi experience with innovation. As travelers know, the taxi experience in many cities can be frustrating, fraught with scams, rip-offs, disputes over fares, unhygienic taxi interiors and poor driving skills. These pioneering women-only taxi companies are trying to show there is another way: that taxis can be clean, meters honest and driving safe and sound.

Security for women has come into the media spotlight in India after a series of high-profile attacks and sexual assaults. The country is undergoing major economic and social change as it modernizes and urbanizes. Women are seeing their incomes and their role in the economy increase.

This brings both opportunities and risks. Women who would have only lived and worked in a small geographical area, and generally associated only with their family or a small village, are now mobile and in contact with the busy urban environments of megacities awash with strangers.

One woman is raped every 20 minutes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. But police estimate only four out of 10 rapes are reported, largely due to victims’ fear of being shamed by their families and communities. At the beginning of March 2013, a campaign to raise awareness on women’s safety was launched in Delhi to chime with International Women’s Day. The UN also confirmed in March 2013 a global strategy to combat violence against women (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/57sess.htm).

One champion of safer transport for women in India is Revathi Roy, a rally car driver and entrepreneur. She started a women-only taxi company in Mumbai called Forsche in 2007 out of raw economic need, and to solve a problem.

“I am a very fussy passenger and I would get upset that the seat was not comfortable, or the driver was driving too rashly for my liking,” Roy told BBC News.

“I would also find it irritating that some drivers would stare at me from their rear-view mirror and one day, I just decided I had had enough.”

Forsche – pronounced “for she” – a play on the German car maker Porsche’s name – was one of the pioneers in bringing all-women taxi services to India. Their drivers’ uniform came in pink and purple with a purple scarf worn around the neck.

However, Roy parted ways with her previous business partner and set up Viira Cabs (viiracabs.com/) in 2011. Viira means ‘courageous woman’ according to Roy.

Roy hopes passengers from young girls to senior citizens will feel safer and more confident knowing a woman is the driver.

“The attitude of Indian mothers is changing,” she said. “Now they know their daughters go out and drink. They realize they may as well keep them safe by putting them in the hands of a woman who at all times is playing the role of a mother or a sister.  A man can’t be a woman. And just because a woman is sitting at the wheel she doesn’t become a man.”

The company has 20 taxis and 25 drivers. It uses a fleet of Maruti Eecos (http://marutisuzukieeco.in/), a mini van made by Suzuki capable of carrying four adult passengers and their luggage. Viira also seeks to improve driving standards on Mumbai’s roads by setting a good example with safe, defensive driving techniques.

A pioneer of female taxi drivers in India, Roy is now the Mentor and Chief Driving Officer for Viira Cabs. According to the company’s website, she is looking to train thousands of women to be able to make their livelihood as a taxi driver.

“Driving is still very male dominated and in Mumbai where most people travel by public transport, there are very few women with driving licenses,” she explained.

“Viira is a very powerful platform for poor, urban women who are now able to earn up to Rs 12,000 a month (US $222),” Roy told CNN.

Viira’s drivers wear a professional uniform of a peaked cap, white short sleeved shirt with blue trim, and a plastic identification badge on a blue lanyard. This makes it clear from the start to passengers who is driving them.

The service runs 24 hours a day, seven day a week, and journeys are dispatched from the company’s call centre. To keep the service safe as can be, all vehicles are monitored by GPS (global positioning system) and a panic alert system. The drivers receive self-defence and defensive-driving training so they can elude any dangers while on the road. They also know how to handle roadside emergencies and are backed up by 24/7 support from the call centre.

The taxis follow the standard charges set down by the Mumbai region. By using mini-vans, passengers are able to enjoy a comfortable and roomy ride in air conditioned comfort – a big plus in a hot country. The vans run on CNG (compressed natural gas) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compressed_natural_gas), reducing pollution.

To add even more value to the journey experience, the taxis feature live television and Internet web surfing using something called Tabbie TM (Tablet in a Cab), a 10-inch-wide computer tablet.

In addition to the taxi service, the Viira Motor Training School offers driver training to women with low incomes. Its 12-week program covers all the main areas of taxi-driving skills – driving theory, mechanics, customer service, health and safety and self-defence – but also goes to the next level and gives the students training on a vehicle-driving simulator donated by the Suzuki company.

Roy said she hopes to expand the business from Mumbai to smaller urban areas “where Indian women are most starved of opportunities.”

Long-term, she wants to become “India’s premier chauffeur and fleet service.”

Roy’s success with these companies led to the founding of the social enterprise Sakh Consulting Wings (http://sakhaconsultingwings.com/about-us.php) to support establishing similar services in other Indian cities.

Sakha Consulting Wings is partnered with the Azad Foundation to promote taxi driving as a viable career for women from poor backgrounds.

Super Cabz in Delhi (http://www.supercabz.com/women-friendly-cab-service-delhi-ncr.php) is another service aimed at women. It has innovations such as panic buttons in the back seats of the cabs and mobilizers to allow the central call centre to shut the cab’s engine down in an emergency. There is also a GPS monitoring and tracking system to keep tabs on the cabs as they go about the city.

Resources

1) South Africa’s Cabs for Women. Website: cabsforwomen.co.za/

2) India Taxi Auto Fare: “A unique service that calculates your taxi fare and auto fares; before you start your travel! You also get an exact, to the scale Google Map that shows your route. Further, you can also change the default route to avoid traffic, plan for some shopping on the way or just pick up your date!” Website: http://www.taxiautofare.com/Default.aspx

3) Merar: Merar was launched with the idea to create the best platform for investment providers and seekers from emerging markets. It has grown to become one of the largest online meeting places bringing together investors, entrepreneurs and investment intermediaries globally. Website: merar.com/

4) Lavasa Womens Drive: Helps champion skilled women drivers in India. Website: http://www.lavasawomensdrive.com/selectcity1.html

5) PeopleNet TABLET™: A powerful in-cab personal computer with a touch screen, stylus and screen keyboard. Website: peoplenetonline.com/tablet

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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This work is licensed under a
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