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FEATURE STORYFebruary 22, 2023

Designing Public Transport in India That Works for All


World Bank


  • Women are amongst the biggest users of public transport across Indian cities. Eighty-four percent of trips taken by women for work were estimated to be by public, intermediate public, and non-motorised transport.
  • However, public transport services are not traditionally designed keeping in mind women’s safety and their specific travel needs. This severely limits their access to work, education and life choices.
  • The World Bank Gender Toolkit brings together lessons learnt on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ through a series of 50 case studies from across India and the rest of the world, throwing light on interventions that have worked.

"My parents stopped my education when I complained about the harassment on the streets and buses enroute to school. They could not always send a male member to escort me to school".

"It is unsafe to take a bus at night because of the long waiting time at a bus stop. No lights and fewer women on the streets while walking back home is very scary and makes me anxious".

These are some voices of women in India that describe their experiences of taking public transport or using public spaces. Such experiences often hamper women’s access to work or education. It is no surprise that India has among the lowest rates of women participating in the labour force -- 26.2 percent in 2020-21.

Women’s use of public transport in India is very different from men’s. So are their needs while commuting. While safety is a big concern for women as they navigate public spaces, for men it does not rank that highly. Women also tend to travel during off-peak hours, have children in tow and make several short trips to complete household chores or fetch children from school. Men, meanwhile, mostly travel for work, often during peak hours and undertake a single long trip in the morning and evening.

Given these differences in the way women and men travel, there is an urgent need to redesign public transport to also include women’s travel preferences.

Cities are experienced differently by men and women. Making cities safer can ensure that women and girls have choices - they can choose to stay longer in the office, go to better educational institutions, and even have a wider array of entrepreneurship opportunities.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Auguste Tano Kouamé
World Bank Country Director for India

World Bank

Regularly collecting and analyzing user data covering women, men, trans persons and other genders to understand their different transport needs and patterns is the first step towards designing public transport that works for them. Collecting and analyzing non-user data is also important to understand the factors that deter women from travelling.

The World Bank’s Gender Toolkit is a ‘how-to’ guide that cities can use to strengthen public transport infrastructure and services in a way that makes women feel safe and included.

Its recommendations include some obvious but highly effective interventions such as ensuring adequate and well-positioned streetlighting in dark patches. This can improve safety for women and persons of minority genders.

Improving walking and cycling tracks particularly benefits women, as they are bigger users of non-motorized transport. Planning public transport systems so that users can easily switch, say from a bus to a metro, can also benefit women as they tend to make frequent changes from one mode to another.

Bus design can include lower handlebars, wider gangways, space for strollers, access ramps, storage space, as well as emergency buttons and even closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs).

Services during off-peak hours or on routes frequented by women can be increased. Guidelines can be created for preferential boarding / alighting for women. In Mumbai, for instance, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) launched a ‘ladies-first’ bus service, where women passengers are given priority in boarding.

Request stops, which allow women to disembark from buses at a location other than a bus stop may be started. For instance, in Telangana women can alight buses anywhere after 7:30pm within the Greater Hyderabad Zone.

The World Bank

World Bank

Stations, terminals, depots, and rest stops could have separate toilets, feeding rooms, and designated seating areas for women. Use of gender-inclusive signages – where the flashing green and red signals for walkers depict a woman – can go a long way in promoting the feeling of inclusion. Cities across the world, including Mumbai, Melbourne, and Geneva, amongst others, have experimented with this.

Additionally, devising responsive fare policies can boost ridership for women and persons of other genders. Setting up a strong grievance redressal system can help fast-track sexual harassment complaints.

Building the capacity of city officials to formulate policies for safer, women-friendly transport is key. At the same time, a long-term shift in mindsets is required at both the individual and community levels, so that conscious and unconscious gender biases can be unlearned.

The World Bank Gender Toolkit brings together lessons learnt on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ through a series of 50 case studies from across India and the rest of the world, throwing light on interventions that have worked.


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