Fare-free Public Transit and Women’s Economic Participation: An Analysis of the Shakti Yojane in Karnataka, India

13 June 2024

This report is the first in a series of three reports, undertaken in collaboration with the Fiscal Policy Institue, Government of Karnataka. It investigates the effectiveness of Shakti Scheme – the fare-free transit policy in the state of Karnataka – on women’s labour force participation, access to better-quality jobs, and perceived change in agency due to higher mobility and financial savings.

Key Highlights

The lack of convenient, safe, and affordable modes of public transport has significant consequences on women’s economic participation. Restricted physical mobility hinders women’s ability to navigate public spaces and limits their participation in essential activities such as acquiring quality education, building community networks, and accessing quality employment and healthcare. Without affordable and safe public transport, women often rely on walking or informal means to commute, which increases the risk of exposure to harassment and assault.

Policy initiatives to boost women’s labour force participation are crucial to furthering gender equality and women’s empowerment. Fare-Free Public Transit (FFPT) schemes for women can play an important role in improving women’s employment outcomes by easing access to better quality jobs.

In July 2023, the Government of Karnataka launched an initiative to provide women with fare-free rides in non-premium, state-run buses (Shakti Scheme). This scheme aimed to improve women’s participation in education and employment by making transportation more accessible for them.

The Centre for Gender Analysis, in collaboration with the Fiscal Policy Institute, Government of Karnataka, is examining the impact of this scheme on women’s employment outcomes. This report presents the findings of a baseline study, which explores the early impact of the scheme on women’s commute, access to work opportunities, and financial savings. The subsequent studies will come in year two and three of the scheme.

This study indicates that FFPT has wide-ranging benefits for women’s empowerment. To be effective, it needs to be implemented in conjunction with other policy interventions aimed at diversifying livelihood options, improving access to good quality jobs, access to childcare facilities, and a robust social protection system that responds to the particular needs of women. Overcoming cultural barriers takes time, this scheme is a step in the right direction, but there is a long road ahead.