Kicking off the new year with good news for women across the state, the Maharashtra Transport Department allotted 548 women a three-wheeler license through a lottery system, including 465 in the Mumbai city region, earlier this month. “The women have won through a fiver percent reservation system, which was introduced for the first time, as we want to encourage them to ply autos and earn a livelihood. The move will also help women who travel alone,” stated Diwakar Raote, state transport minister, after the lottery results were announced.
This exclusive female-only transport system received a nod from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Transport Authority (MMRTA), addressing the need for women’s safety measures in the public arena. Women subjected to sexual harassment, eave teasing, rude behaviour and more at the hands of male rickshaw drivers in the past has stemmed the need for this service, giving female commuters across the city a safer travelling option, which will be especially useful for women journeying alone, late in the night, or in sparsely populated parts of the city.
Soon, the streets of Mumbai will see orange or pink auto rickshaws displaying a sign reading ‘preference to women’. The drivers will be given the option of accepting male commuters if they wish, however the service is primarily meant for female travellers and their families. Although 465 permits have already been allotted in Mumbai, 1,316 permits are still to be handed out to women drivers, and the department is inviting applications. While speaking Marathi is still being strictly enforced as a primary qualification to apply, other rules have been relaxed, making the application process smoother—female commercial license holders needn’t wait a year for the badge, and can get it within a month. “I am glad that online applications were also in Marathi. If any driver who gets a permit is found not to know the local language, we will take disciplinary action against the officials who cleared his files,” warned Raote.
In the same lottery, men won 34,000 auto permits in Mumbai, so citizens can expect many rickshaws plying across the city. It’s safe to say that the landscape of Mumbai’s three-wheeler transport system will soon be transformed, with both a greater number of vehicles plying, as well as orange or pink thrown in the mix. Ranchi, Odisha, Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack and Gurgaon already boast of exclusive female-run auto rickshaws, and Mumbai can now proudly be added to the list, taking the city one step closer to creating a safe public space for women.