Walk Tall!

Cycle rickshaws in the transport chain

‘Let us breathe’ initiative, in recent times has been the prime motto for most countries. Growing awareness on environmental crisis has seen global progression in numerous green revolution and eco-solutions. Huge investments are being made on alternative fuel aimed at making the transport system fossil-fuel independent. With increased urbanization and expansion of cities, short distance travel has however, become a challenge especially for the urban poor. Intermediate public transport is a concern considering the virtually non-existent reserved sub-lanes, in most Indian cities. Rapid increase in the number of motorized vehicles in India, over the years, has raised serious trepidations on issues of road safety and environmental sustainability.

Residential areas have often, insufficient access and inadequate options to approach the closest public transport network. As cities grow exponentially, an effective and sustainable transport system for people and goods is a prerequisite for sustainable growth. Cycle rickshaws are an excellent alternative to carbon emitting motorized vehicles for any short distance travel. They occupy less space; are not heavy on the road and are non-polluting. Cycle rickshaws are most suited transit modes for the economically lesser privileged as they are inexpensive and affordable. They also encourage building employment and are low in maintenance. They help in maintaining the road standards as most often sub-lanes are not designed for heavy traffic. Therefore, popularizing cycle rickshaws would go a long way in making transportation cheap for people.

Non-motorized transportation (NMT) improvements are particularly important in residential network. To make our cities cycle rickshaws friendly there are certain approaches that have to be followed. Constructing shoulder lanes for safe maneuver; correcting pathway hazards like potholes; proper parking space; traffic calming and speed reduction; and rate regulation will contribute towards popularizing such NMT.

The ‘Fazilka Eco cabs’ is an innovative business concept and is the world’s first ‘dial a rickshaw’ scheme has successfully popularized the cycle rickshaw as a transport mode. It has made use of the high mobile penetration and the last three digits differ depending on the area code. A call to the number goes to the call centre, and the operator immediately dispatches a rickshaw and within 15 minutes one is assured of the service at the doorstep. This model has also lent dignity to the rickshaw pullers and and improved their financials and social standing by providing them with medical insurance and other benefits such as loans, arranging family travel etc. More details at http://ecocabs.org/index.php . Among the various awards that Fazilka has won is the Ministry of Urban Development’s ‘National Award of Excellence in Urban Transport’ in 2011. The model has been replicated in other towns and cities of Punjab.

Organizations like the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) have also carried out modernization of designs that has helped to reduce the weight of cycle rickshaws and made them ergonomically sound.

Proper awareness campaigns and public service advertisements can help enhance the use of cycle rickshaws as sustainable and environment friendly non-motorized mode of transport, as it moving is unfortunate that many cities ban cycle rickshaws as they supposedly causes congestion due to their slow speeds. Transport planners should wake up to the fact of high congestion due to personal motorized vehicles is the cause of congestion and with every passing day the average travel speed is only reducing. Along with the impetus that is given to mass public transport systems, it is essential that cycle rickshaws are also recognized as being part of the system for providing the essential first and last mile connectivity.

Compiled by Sonali Chakravorty sonalichak@gmail.com

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