Female-Only Transportation

When Ariadna Montiel was a student in the 1990s and rode Mexico City's subways during peak hours, she shunned skirts in the hope of sparing herself the groping hands of a male passenger. Now the 33-year-old architect—who took charge of the capital's bus system a year ago—has devised a novel solution to the dilemma of leering lotharios: women-only bus service. Coaches bearing pink LADIES ONLY signs on their windshields made their debut on four Mexico City bus routes last month, and Montiel plans to extend the service to 11 more routes in coming weeks. "We've had to increase the original number of vehicles exclusively for women by 20 percent because there has been so much demand," says Montiel.

There was a time not long ago when such segregation would have been deemed unacceptable, if not unlawful. But women-only public transit is catching on. The Tokyo subway network began setting aside cars exclusively for women more than two years ago, and Rio de Janeiro did the same with its subway and suburban rail systems after hundreds of female commuters deluged the state legislature's hot line with complaints about fondlers. Seoul's subway lines will follow suit later this year.

The revolt of the female commuter may have as much to do with changing demographics as with social attitudes. "We didn't have this problem before because most women stayed at home," says Brazil's Jorge Picciani, a state lawmaker who sponsored Rio's bus legislation. "Now half our commuters are women." The move yielded hefty returns for Picciani: his popularity among female voters soared in the 2006 elections, a dividend that politicians in other countries might want to note.