BRT Peshawar boosts safety and hires female staff; 30% of bus travellers in the city are now women. Twitter photos
Pakistani student Mah Jabeen credits a new public bus system in her home city, Peshawar, with saving her from being stuck at her parents’ house doing chores — or even having to get married. Thanks to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the northwestern city of Peshawar, 23-year-old Jabeen said she had been able to continue her master’s degree — keeping alive her dreams of becoming a botanist.
“My parents had decided to stop my education … because they didn’t like me travelling in the dishevelled Mazda wagons,” Jabeen said, referring to the city’s privately run minibuses while sitting on a shiny BRT bus en route to college. They relented, she said, because the new bus stop was just a few minutes from her front door and dropped her off at the university gates.
Launched in 2020, the BRT has proved hugely popular among women in the city, where burqas and veils are standard female dress and 90% of women reported feeling unsafe using public transport in a 2016 survey.
A BRT bus passes near the historical fort, Qilla Bala Hisar, in Peshawar.
Sexual harassment such as staring, whistling and touching is widespread on buses or at bus stops, making many women wary about travelling alone and putting many off looking for paid work, according to the World Bank. But in Peshawar, a quarter of seats are reserved for women on the fleet of diesel-electric hybrid buses, which are equipped with CCTV cameras, guards and have well-lit stations, making female passengers feel more at ease.
About 15% of the BRT’s 2,000 employees are female, too, said M Umair Khan, spokesman for TransPeshawar, the government-owned company that operates the BRT. He said such changes helped explain why women now account for about 30% of bus travellers in the city, up from just 2% two years ago.
A medical student (L) among other passengers wait for a bus at a BRT station in Peshawar.
Pakistani women rely more on public transport than men, who are more likely to have cars, bikes or motorcycles, meaning they are “severely mobility constrained” without a good service, said Lala Rukh Khan, project manager at the Lahore-based Centre for Economic Research (CERP). With frequent buses, dedicated lanes, subway-like stations, and improved connectivity across the city, the BRT has made travel cheap and quick, as well as safer.
Maximum fares cost about Rs30 ($0.16), making the service especially popular among women from low-income households.