Shakti Scheme’s Impact: Free Bus Travel Enjoys Massive Uptake, While Premium Services and Private Operators Struggle
In a surprising turn of events, the much-publicized Shakti Scheme, which grants free bus travel to women in non-AC state transport buses, has inadvertently affected the collections of premium services and trains. The scheme has garnered immense popularity among women who are eager to travel across the state at no cost. However, its unintended consequences are being felt by the railways and high-end Volvo buses in prominent cities, where a noticeable decline in women passengers has been observed.
According to reliable sources within Indian Railways, there has been a significant 20 percent decrease in women passengers since the introduction of the Shakti scheme. On the second day of the program’s implementation, numerous Volvo buses experienced extended waiting times as they struggled to fill up with passengers. Additionally, authorities at NWKRTC faced challenges in allocating extra regular buses to accommodate the large number of women who flocked to bus stations in droves.
Sandip, a dedicated NWKRTC driver, shared his firsthand experience, stating that the Belagavi to Savdatti bus was packed to capacity, with many women standing in the aisle throughout the journey to the popular pilgrimage center. Ravi observed that the scheme appeared to be a hit, as a wedding party and members of women’s self-help groups arrived at the bus stations with their belongings and Aadhaar cards, eager to embark on a trip, any trip.
However, the impact on premium services and trains has been less favorable. Trains traveling between Dharwad, Belagavi, and Miraj, including the highly sought-after Castle Rock Express, which usually operates at full capacity due to its short travel time of just over two hours, have been relatively empty. Apart from the morning trains catering to office-goers with season tickets, all other trains have experienced a decline in passenger numbers compared to the pre-Shakti Scheme era.
The unintended consequence of the Shakti Scheme’s free travel initiative has led to a decline in patronage for premium services and trains. While the scheme has successfully attracted large numbers of women to non-AC state transport buses, it has inadvertently affected the railways and high-end Volvo buses, which are now struggling to maintain previous levels of ridership. The long-term implications of this development on the transportation sector remain to be seen, as authorities and operators grapple with finding a balance that ensures accessibility for women while sustaining the viability of premium services and trains.
Also, the Shakti Scheme, while providing significant benefits to underprivileged women, has also faced criticism for being exploited by some elite-class women as a means to save money. Consequently, numerous buses are now predominantly occupied by women, leaving little to no space for men, disabled individuals, and senior citizens who pay the full fare and require seating accommodations. This unintended consequence has raised concerns about the equitable distribution of resources and the impact on the accessibility of public transportation for other marginalized groups.
During the hours of 1 PM to midnight, a staggering number of women, totaling 122,354, availed themselves of the Shakti Scheme on NWKRTC buses. This resulted in a substantial ticket value amounting to ₹36,17,096.00. These figures indicate the immense popularity and utilization of the scheme among women, further emphasizing its impact on the transportation landscape and the associated financial implications for the transport authorities.
Furthermore, private operators, such as Bendre Nagar Sarige and Tempo Services, have voiced their dissatisfaction and concerns regarding the Shakti scheme. They have reported poor patronage and expressed fear of incurring significant losses due to the overwhelming passenger crowds that now prefer the free bus travel option. This situation has left private operators grappling with the challenge of filling their seats and maintaining their financial viability in the face of reduced demand. The discontent expressed by these operators highlights the need for a balanced approach that considers the interests of both passengers and private transportation providers in order to ensure a sustainable and efficient public transportation system.
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