Gender segregated buses for Jakarta's Busway?

In one of my first posts, I talked about the reasons that societies sometimes choose to segregate vehicles, or sections of vehicles by gender, and the costs associated with doing so.

Coconuts Jakarta is reporting that Transjakarta, the operator of Jakarta's busway service, is considering introducing female-only buses to combat sexual harassment. The comment was made by the President Director of Transjakarta in response to a recent incident of sexual harassment that occurred on a public footbridge after both patrons had been riding a Transjakarta bus.

In my abovelinked post, I wrote about how gender segregation on public transport decreases the efficiency of the fleet, and imposes some other more difficult-to-value costs on society. In the case of completely gender segregated buses, as opposed to gender segregated sections of buses, the impacts on efficiency will be extreme.

When you have impacts on efficiency, one of two things happen: passenger wait times increase, or your fleet size needs to increase. At present, the fleet in Jakarta is well below what is needed,  and they're currently scaling up as fast as they can but it will take a few years until the fleet size is sufficient, no matter what the gender segregation policy. So, in Jakarta, an efficiency impact will flow pretty much entirely  through to wait times for at least the next few years.

If this is being seriously proposed, the biggest questions for me would be:

  • What proportion of buses would be women-only?
  • Would the gender-segregated sections in existing buses be preserved?

Currently, around one third of bus space is segregated for women. This means that, if you don't maintain the gender segregated sections in existing buses, to maintain the total women dedicated capacity would mean every third bus would need to be women-only. This would mean that, on average*, if you're a women that wants to ride in a dedicated section, you'd need to wait 3 times as long to get that dedicated section. You're also increasing wait times for men by 1.5 times**, because now they'll only get two buses that they can ride on in the time they used to get three. 

If you do maintain the gender-segregated sections, and offer a smaller fleet of women-dedicated buses, those buses will be even less frequent, so wait times for women wanting a completely segregated bus will be more than 3 times the current wait times.

If forced to wait for 3 (or more) times longer than they currently do, would women still choose to ride the Busway, or would they switch to other forms of transport, or elect not to travel? 

This particular case of sexual harassment would have been prevented had the victim in question been travelling on a gender segregated bus, as the harasser followed her off the bus. However, had that particular woman been on a gender segregated bus, the harasser may have selected another woman on the mixed bus, or just some other woman on his walk home that wasn't riding the bus at all.

The costs this policy would impose would be significant, and the largest burden would be borne by women. If it is seriously being considered, Transjakarta and the city government of Jakarta should first publish data on sexual harassment rates on the Busway, their estimates of how many incidents would be avoided by this policy intervention, and the expected impacts on travel times. Following publication of this analysis, they should undertake a survey of the Busway's passengers (disaggregated by gender) to see if the change would be welcome. 

When an incident occurs, the natural instinct for a lot of people is to demand change to make sure it never happens again. But, in situations like this, the rush to show concrete action can result in policy outcomes that can be counterproductive. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. 

*Ignoring peaking effects for simplicity.


Gender and infrastructure

In my previous post I delved into the thorny issue of gender and infrastructure. It's something I have been thinking about a lot recently, both personally and professionally. 

It's the kind of area can sound a little odd. I mean, let's be honest here, the gender impacts of the alignment of a power transmission line aren't really immediately obvious. That said, in certain cases, like public transport policy, there can be some really significant positive or negative gender impacts.

In my experience, gender in infrastructure has been viewed through a sort of a safeguards lens, where you plan your project, then check afterwards if there are any negative gender impacts. If so, depending on how much they cost, you might do something about them. I'm interested in whether that is in fact the best way to do things, or if there's some other way. And, if there is some other way, how we can build systems that incorporate these issues from the ground up.

In Indonesia, pretty much the only people I know that are looking at the practice of this sort of thing are the Indonesia Infrastructure Initiative (IndII), an Australian government-funded program*. They have some great materials on gender and disability and are actively incorporate these issues into their program design.

I have also been lucky enough to have a chance to discuss this topic with Dr. Lisa Cameron of Monash University in Melbourne, whose work on Indonesia I have loved for a long time and highly recommend. I'm hoping she sees fit to add to the academic literature on this sort of thing...

Outside of this, and what I have found with a bit of a google, I'm not that aware of many good resources on the topic. If anyone knows of any good research or interesting researchers looking at this field, please let me know in the comments.

*Full disclosure: I worked for AusAID on the design of IndII (I even came up with the name), and collaborate a lot with IndII on a day to day basis in my day job.