CHENNAI: When they were first ushered in, women crew on Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses were expected to meet two goals — break into yet another men-only service job, and give a sense of assurance to women passengers who often complain of harassment, on buses. However, a few years down the line, the number of women conductors has only fallen from over 50 to below 30, with a few desperate ones hanging on to the job due to lack of options.
According to some of the crew members whom City Express spoke to, lack of basic facilities at most bus terminals, inconvenient working hours that is tough for a woman who also has to look after domestic chores, and no leniency on the part of the management, are some of the reasons that force some to give up the job.
They added that many times, the issues are basic, which can be addressed without much hassle.
For Saroja*, who is one of the two women conductors at a depot in the suburbs of Chennai, the biggest trouble while on duty is to find a toilet. “We have to use the men’s toilet as there is no separate facility for us. The route assigned to me is from here to Parry’s Corner, which takes about two hours. There, too, the public toilet is often in an unusable condition, forcing us to wait till we find one,” she rues.
As there are no rooms at the depot for them to change clothes, the women often start from home in their uniforms.
A more serious issue that makes them quit is the timings, says Sangeetha*, now a conductor on a bus to Anna Square. “We are being treated equal to men. While this is welcome in all practical matters, it creates problems for us women when it comes to shift timings,” she noted.
The first shift is from 4 am to 12 noon, which means Sangeetha has to leave home around 3.30 am, for which she has to get up by 2.30 am. The second shift is from noon to 8 pm. This, however, is only the reporting time. “The actual closing time depends on the timing of the bus. If I take the 3 pm bus, it may go till 11.30 pm or so — that is only when the trip gets over. Then I have to hand over the cash and finish all formalities, which often extends up to 12.30 am or even 1 am some times,” she adds. Another trouble is dealing with the people. Recalling an incident that happened a couple of weeks ago, Malathi* details how the bus in which she was on duty, bumped in to a car at Nethaji Nagar. The driver of the car was enraged and had tried to snatch the cash bag from her hand. “The driver did not get down, so I had to deal with the issue. Due to such problems, one of my colleagues shifted to the ticketing section,” she added.
In fact, on the routes where there are cases of buses being ‘hijacked’ by college students, the management had decided not to post women crew.
However, despite these daily struggles, not everyone can afford to give up the ‘secure’ government job. “It has been nearly a decade that I have been in service. I am forced to cling on to it because I have three children and my family needs financial support,” said Saroja.
S Sekar, president of State Transport Employees Union affiliated to the CITU, said that the only extra benefit that these women had when compared to men was the six months maternity leave. “From allotting early schedules for them so that they can return home early to providing them separate toilets and retiring rooms, there are many measures that the MTC management can initiate. However, these are yet to materialise,” he said.
MTC officials were not available for comment on the matter despite several attempts.
(*Names changed on request)