Buses just for us a good idea, but how and for how long, ask women

Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook greeting passengers at the Seremban Terminal One yesterday. Loke says express bus companies serving the KL-Seremban route have been told to provide women-only buses on a daily basis. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The new policy for express bus companies serving the Kuala Lumpur-Seremban route to provide women-only buses on a daily basis has sparked questions over enforcement and monitoring, as well as the long-term viability of the plan.

Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook, who announced the directive earlier this week, said it was the result of requests from women commuters.

“At present, there are three companies providing the service, and we have told them to provide four trips every hour between 5am and 7am for only women,” the Seremban MP said.

Lawyer Samantha Chong said it was a good idea but cautioned that enforcement would be difficult.

“You can have a good policy, but without a proper framework it will be no use,” she told FMT.

Chong, a former deputy public prosecutor, also questioned whether existing traffic laws allow the authorities to penalise men who enter women-only buses or trains.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, who is also a vocal human rights activist, agreed that such buses would need to be monitored.

“As passengers, we can ask those who are not supposed to be on the bus to leave, but they may not take us seriously,” she said.

“Enforcement officers need to make sure that women-only transport is really safe for us.”

Tan Heang-Lee from the Women’s Aid Organisation said women-only coaches are merely a temporary measure to address safety concerns.

“Fundamentally, we need to prevent sexual harassment and assault in all forms of public transport,” she said.

“Segregating women from men in public transport is not a long-term solution.”

She suggested that transportation companies have their own sexual harassment policies and reporting mechanisms.

She also urged companies to train their drivers and personnel in how to respond to cases of sexual harassment or assault.

“Women must be able to move freely and safely in public spaces.”

However, consumer rights activist Meenakshi Raman welcomed the directive, saying many women feel uncomfortable squeezing into buses or trains with other passengers.

“Women-only buses will ensure our safety and that we are not taken advantage of,” she said.

Meanwhile, a bus operators’ group questioned the new policy, asking if the ministry had conducted any studies on the issue.

Ashfar Ali, who heads the Pan-Malaysian Bus Operators Association, also asked if the policy would have a financial impact on bus operators.

“I am not sure if this ruling is just advice from the minister and voluntary for each operator to follow, or whether it is compulsory for operators to adhere to,” he said.

Transport expert Goh Bok Yen said surveys are usually done to determine the demand pattern for such services. This then allows bus operators to allocate the proper resources.

“Without proper studies, the frequency of such buses might lead to a misallocation of resources,” he said, asking what would happen if buses reserved for women are largely empty.

He also noted that many women travel with male family members or friends.

He said he would support such a measure if it enhances the quality of service, especially during peak hours when buses are packed.

However, he cautioned that the arrangement should not affect or reduce the frequency of ordinary services.

“Public passenger transport should be demand-driven, user-friendly, comfortable, reliable and safe.”