Nepal’s capital Kathmandu has introduced women-only buses in an attempt to reduce sexual harassment and groping on public transport, a senior government official said on Monday.

The initiative will start with four 16-seater buses which will ply a popular east-west route across the city during peak morning and evening hours.

“There were complaints that women are facing groping and sexual harassment while travelling in crowded buses,” Tulsi Prasad Sitaula, a senior transport ministry official, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There are no official figures for the number of sexual assaults in Nepal, but police said reports of violence against women – which include rape, domestic violence and molestation – soared to 6,800 for the year up to July 2014 compared to 1,800 for the previous year. The rise is attributed to greater awareness of gender crimes.

Operators said the buses would initially have male drivers and that only one of the conductors was female, but they want to recruit more women staff.

“We want to gradually employ female drivers and conductors in these vehicles. But it is hard to find them,” said Dharma Raj Rimal of the National Federation of Transport Entrepreneurs group which is behind the initiative.

“If there is demand and the service becomes popular, we plan to expand to other routes in the city and extend its timing,” he added.

Female commuters in Kathmandu welcomed the move. “It is safer as well as more comfortable, but the buses must also run when it gets dark and when it is difficult for women to travel,” said 17-year-old student Parbati Gurung.

The overwhelming majority of women polled in a recent survey carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation in the world’s 15 largest capitals said they would feel safer in single-sex areas on buses and trains.

This article is published in collaboration with The Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Gopal Sharma works for Reuters as Nepal correspondent.

Image: Passengers travel in a women-only bus in Kathmandu January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar.