Moving towards Climate Resilient and Gender-responsive E-bus Depots

As India moves towards electrification of public buses, there’s an opportunity to make e-bus depots gender-responsive and climate-resilient. By Sonal Shah and Manisha Sharma.

Women are underrepresented in India’s transport sector. Recent data from the annual Periodic Labour Force Survey 2022-23 reveal that only 5.5 per cent of working women (aged 15 years and above) are employed in the transport, storage, and communications sector in urban areas, as compared to 13.7 per cent of men. Transport, storage and communications sector involve the working population in land transport, water transport, air transport, warehousing and support activities and postal and courier services. Despite a slight increase from 3.3 per cent in 2017-18, women remain woefully underrepresented, often confined to lower-paid positions in administration, sales and have lower representation in positions as drivers, managers, conductors, traffic inspectors.

The Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL) has taken a step by mandating 25 per cent female representation of shop floor employees, drivers and depot staff, each in its 2022 tender, which was later reduced to 10 per cent across the supply chain. The PM e-bus SEWA scheme aiming to deploy 10,000 e-buses nationwide removed all targets. Subsequently, Convergence Energy Services Limited (CESL) issued tenders for 6957 e-buses, which focused on providing women-friendly facilities at e-bus depots and required the operators to report actions undertaken by them.

Actionable Steps for Gender-Responsive and Climate-Resilient Depots

We have outlined actionable steps to ensure e-bus depots have consistent, gender-responsive facilities that are also resilient to floods and heat waves.

Conduct Gender-sensitive Infrastructure Audits
Gendered spatial infrastructure audits of e-bus depots can reveal the extent to which depot facilities are responsive and accessible for women and gender minorities. By involving these groups in participatory audits, we can uncover issues like poorly lit areas or inadequate toilet facilities. Depots may not be consistently lit with dark corners in the evening. They may not include gender-neutral accessible toilets and often have a single entrance for male and female toilets. Toilets are often not well-ventilated or well-maintained, or responsive to women’s menstrual needs. Female frontline and maintenance personnel may not have dedicated resting areas, changing rooms with lockers.
These audits should be developed from focus group discussions or innovative tools with female and gender minority personnel and ensure that there are no negative consequences or repercussions. The concept and detailed designs of new depots should be reviewed by gender and built environment experts.

Design and Maintain Gender-Responsive Toilets

Electric bus depots should provide gender-segregated toilets for men and women, as well as universally accessible neutral toilets. For drivers and maintenance personnel, facilities should be located near their duty areas for proximity and ease of access. Cleanliness (provision of handwash and drying), ventilation, and amenities like sanitary products, dustbins for disposal of menstrual waste with regular maintenance schedules are crucial. Separate cubicles for showers and changing rooms should be added near the toilets.

Framework for designing a gender-responsive toilet © The Urban Catalysts

Create Rest Areas

Well-lit, separate waiting areas with locker facilities for female and gender minority staff are essential for comfort and security. These spaces provide a safe haven during breaks and between shifts, allowing workers to safely store personal items.

Support Working Parents: Implement Childcare Services

Public transport agencies can collaborate with the private sector or non-government organisations to establish crèche facilities under the updated Paalna – National Crèche Scheme (2024) or provide financial support for in-home care services for children up to 6 years. This could remove significant barriers for working parents. This support enables more women to enter and remain in the workforce.

Create a Culture of Respect: Improve Grievance Redress Mechanisms at E-Bus Facilities

Grievance redress mechanisms need to be strengthened at the depot. A comprehensive capacity development program should be implemented focusing on sex and gender, norms and behaviours, sexual exploitation, workplace harassment and how to prevent and address these. To foster gender-inclusive behaviour at the depot level, it is essential to sensitize frontline staff and their supervisors, Depot Managers and Regional Managers. By modelling gender-positive and inclusive attitudes and behaviours, Depot Managers can set a benchmark for creating a safe and welcoming workplace for everyone. This leadership role is crucial in creating a culture of inclusivity and respect across the entire depot.

Build a Climate-Resilient E-Bus Depot

Climate change is impacting cities. Adapting to these changes is essential to ensure that existing and new e-bus depots are climate-resilient. The following are the key strategies that could help public transport agencies to make bus depots resilient:

Flood Resilience

  • Locate new e-bus depots in low-risk flood zones: Choosing locations less prone to flooding can significantly reduce the risk of water damage to critical infrastructure.
  • Install vital charging infrastructure on elevated platforms: Elevating these components minimizes their exposure to floodwaters, protecting them from damage.
  • Increase water retention capacity through soft scaping, vegetation, porous pavements to reduce runoff;
  • Establish regular maintenance schedules for drainage systems to remove obstructions and blockage

Heat Resilience

With rising temperatures and more frequent heat waves, it’s crucial to design depots that can withstand extreme heat:

  • Design buildings to encourage natural cooling and ensure indoor areas are well-ventilated.
  • Increase the area under shade to reduce heat exposure: Strategically covering waiting areas, walkways, bus parking, and charging infrastructure with shade structures or trees can significantly lower temperatures.
  • Ensure adequate availability of drinking water facilities: Providing sufficient drinking water stations for all personnel helps prevent heat-related illnesses.
  • Use sustainable building materials that are heat-resistant or lighter in color: These materials, especially for pavements and roofs, can reduce heat absorption.

Electricity Outage Resilience

Power outages can disrupt depot operations, but with the right strategies, we can ensure continuity:

  • Deploy mobile power supply substations: These units can be activated during power outages to maintain essential operations like charging stations, fans, and lighting.
  • Install solar panels to augment the depot’s electricity supply: Solar panels can provide a reliable backup power source during emergencies and support daily operations.
  • Develop a contingency plan to reroute buses: In the event of floods or other weather-related disruptions, having predefined alternative routes and communication protocols ensures minimal service disruptions.

A Vision for Equitable and Sustainable Urban Transport

As Indian cities retrofit their depots for e-buses, we are presented with a  prime opportunity to redesign them through a gender lens and ensure they are resilient to climate change. By implementing the changes proposed in this article, we’re not just improving infrastructure – we’re building a more equitable, sustainable future for Indian cities.

Sonal Shah
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    Manisha Sharma
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