India’s growing middle class is emulating the developed world’s car culture, but women are being left out: Even as the number of driving licenses issued to women has doubled since the early 2000s, still only about one in 10 drive. That means women have to rely on rides from men or brave public transportation, where instances of sexual assault, acid attacks, and rape have reached crisis levels.
There’s now a fix in the Indian state of Gujarat that could save lives. It’s like Lyft, but for pink auto-rickshaws.
Called the Pink Auto Service, it’s designed to help address pervasive violence against women in India, ferrying women safely from point A to B. The just-launched service is operated by women for women (and girls).
“We have a batch of 70 women and 15 are ready to begin work. They have driving licenses and we also help them to get work from schools in the area. We have concentrated on girls’ schools and girl students for women drivers,” SMC assistant commissioner Gayatriben Jariwala told the Times of India.
In Gujarat, the service was born from a partnership between the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), a civic body in the southwestern state of Gujarat, in partnership with Bank of Baroda. With the goal of having women own their rickshaws, the SMC is subsidizing some of the cost of the vehicles and the bank is issuing drivers loans of Rs. 84,000 (about $1,300) at 7% interest. Each driver earns a minimum of Rs. 18,000 (or $280). While that may not sound like much, the annual median per capita income in the country is about $600.
“They can easily pay their monthly installment to the bank and also save enough money,” said Jariwala in the Times. “We everyday read about harassment of women commuters in different cities. This is why we thought of this service which not only provides employment to women but ensures safe travel for female passengers.”
(The Surat Municipal Corporation did not respond to several Fast Company requests for comment.)
Despite lacking a digital app, the service is quickly gaining popularity, popping up across the subcontinent over the last few years—the WorldPost reports that there are “branches” in Mumbai and Noida (an industrial zone) near Delhi, as well as other locations.
Now, will it work at scale? Because of the small number of women currently licensed as drivers, there are long waits at pick-up zones for Pink rides and many potential customers are instead turning to transportation options like buses or regular rickshaws—the exact rides the Pink Auto Service is intended to replace.
In Noida, to deal with this shortcoming, the government has distributed stickers that men can slap onto their auto-rickshaws as a signal of solidarity. The stickers read, “For Women At Nights.” It’s a nice gesture from both the government and feminist-leaning male drivers, but again, it may not always protect women from violence.
And then, of course, there’s the issue of road rage and supposed gender roles. How male drivers react to Pink auto-rickshaws–on what they believe are their roads–remains to be seen.