Woke up this morning to some Tweets celebrating the announcement that rides in Delhi buses and the Metro will be free for women.
While the initial euphoria is understandable in the longer run this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Free means this doesn’t get valued.
Giving consumers anything for free changes expectations in a way that can be difficult to control. It sets a new baseline for acceptable service as well as acceptable pricing. When the program inevitably becomes a drain on the budget there is no chance of going back to charging for it. At least not without an iron will and stomach for the ensuing backlash. There really hasn't been a government in my short memory that would do so in any case.
Charging even a notional amount say simply 1 rupee for travel on the public transport systems means that people continue realizing that the service costs something no matter how small and hence value it more. It also keeps alive the possibility of raising prices slowly over time once the desired effect of getting more women to use the services has been met.
I hope that the Arvind Kejriwal government realizes this soon and doesn’t walk into a disaster neither it nor future governments can get out of.