India uses Telematics to Protect Women on Public Transport

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A year after the shocking and brutal rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the Indian government is turning to telematics and tracking systems to ensure the safety of women on public transportation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs have recently approved a £135 million project to equip public transportation vehicles in 53 cities with tracking and geo-fencing, mandatory GPS-linked panic buttons, and CCTV cameras.

The plan, to be implemented over the next two years, is designed to facilitate rapid reporting and response to sexual violence on India’s buses and trains. It will be financed by the Nirbhaya Fund for women’s safety and dignity, which was named for the (pseudonym) of the victim of the December 2012 bus attack, and is expected to impact up to a million female travelers on India’s public transportation. The project is just one initiative in India’s fight against sexual violence, which has seen public campaigns, stricter laws, and high profile convictions but as last week’s attack on a Danish tourist evidenced, slow progress.

The use on public vehicles of telematics auto systems generally regarded abroad as fancy, high-tech garnishes for personal cars, represents an innovative use of a technology whose growth has lagged in India, despite a booming auto market. The application of telematics products to protect public safety and address pressing social problems, such as the vulnerability of female travelers, and the danger of India’s roads is expected to drive growth in the industry.

“Local government tenders are a key driver of the Indian telematics market, with big scope for investment across many regions of the country,” said Precksha Sacksena-Sood of Telematics Update. Transportation safety programmes are “really positive because government involvement is vital to the expansion of nascent industries,” he said.

The Nirbhaya Fund is one of many government tenders working to improve safety on India’s roads and other transport infrastructure, often through the use of advanced telematics systems. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, investing more than £12 billion over seven years in the creation of “economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive cities,” has devoted hundreds of millions of pounds to installing telematics boxes on public transport vehicles.

With public investment driving telematics growth, could personal devices soon follow? With personal car ownership and smartphone penetration in India booming, telematics companies in the subcontinent are anticipating healthy growth in sales. But before Indians embrace telematics for personal convenience and luxury, they’re using it to protect some of the most vulnerable travelers on their roads.

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L. V. Smith

Lauren has written for a variety of publications on both sides of the Atlantic. She prefers driving Automatic.