In any country, public transport provides many benefits to the people, and they include:
- reducing traffic congestion on the streets
- enhancing fuel efficiency with less traffic on the road
- decreasing greenhouse gases emissions
- reducing air pollution
- advancing community mobility
- boosting commuters’ productivity by reducing stress from driving and being stuck in traffic jams
For all its shortcomings and occasional interruptions, our public transport system, especially the light rapid transport and mass rapid transport (MRT), is much better than those in cities like London and Stockholm. In both those cities, you don’t find washrooms in the underground stations.
Policies implemented should therefore recognise various factors and should not be put into operation haphazardly. Commuters, NGOs and other members of the public should be given a chance to voice their views on proposed additional measures.
Empirical studies have revealed that women who commute on public transport are subjected to various forms of risks. They often encounter sexual violence, extortion, inappropriate touching (especially when the trains are packed) and indecent exposure.
From 18 September, a few separate carriages on the MRT trains in Kuala Lumpur will be designated for women only. While I understand the rationale for the decision, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
- Despite the availability of a women-only train carriage, I notice that some women enter the carriages designated for the rest of the commuters. This is unfair to male commuters, especially during peak hours. Recently, at the Cochrane MRT station. I suggested to two young women that they use the women-only carriage, but they ignored my advice and entered a general carriage
- At times the women-only carriages have few commuters while the other carriages are overcrowded. So, are male commuters supposed to wait for the next train or the next few trains?
- Having separate carriages for women will reflect negatively on the country and make foreigners look at Malaysian men in a negative light. Foreigners, especially women, will be alarmed. They will feel the need to exercise extreme caution when dealing with men
- Crimes against women can be committed in any part of the station and not just in a train carriage
- Women commuters will feel much safer if emergency buttons are accessible in various sections on the trains. With the alerts, criminals can be apprehended by the security personnel at the next station
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Apart from the safety of women on trains, transport authorities should ensure that the elderly, pregnant women and people with disabilities are not denied priority seats
As someone who uses the urban rail network a few times a week, I still see many young commuters sitting on priority seats. They seem oblivious to the commuters who really need those seats.
Public transport is the backbone for and a hurdle to women’s essential needs. Times are changing, especially with more women entering the workforce every year. Women have to juggle with their duties. Besides their commitment to their jobs, they have other obligations, including managing their households.
A well-designed public transport network must be user-friendly, convenient, affordable and safe. This will benefit everyone, but women in particular will have better access to career and social opportunities.
A knee-jerk reaction is not the answer to women’s safety issues. A pragmatic approach is necessary to find acceptable solutions. Concerned parties must sit together and devise a modus operandi to ensure the safety of women using public transport.
I was rather embarrassed to hear the announcement on the MRT the other day informing commuters about the separate carriages for women. I felt it was a slur on most men, whom I think are decent and law-abiding people.