A voluntary campaign to save cyclists and rickshaw drivers from road accidents gain public support in the Indian city of Gurgaon
On a cold and wintry morning in late February, Mehak Sanghera, 12, decided to step on to the street instead of following her brother into the nearby tennis training academy. Donning a reflective vest, she then began to wave down cycle rickshaw drivers and cyclists heading to work, seeking five minutes of their time for an important step in road safety. Sanghera is one of the volunteers of a group that spares their Sunday mornings to a social cause, pasting reflective tapes on cycles and rickshaws to help them avoid accidents in the nights, without charging a fee for those who cannot afford it.
‘Light a Cycle-Save a Cyclist’ campaign, which began early December 2013 in Gurgaon, is drawing the attention of the people because of its voluntary efforts in helping cycles and rickshaws which are otherwise difficult to be seen on the streets because of poor lighting, leading to accidents. The factory fitted reflectors are invariably missing. “We started fourteen weeks ago and have so far covered 1,678 cycles and 322 rickshaws!” says Odette Katrak, one of the founder members of the campaign. Started at the venue of ‘Raahgiri’, a movement to claim pedestrian and cyclists’ space in the busy urban centre of Gurgaon, a city that houses offices of many corporate giants in the world but woefully lacking in public transport and support for non-motorised transport, the campaign initially started with the ‘Raahgiri’ participants but the focus was always the uneducated and the poor labourers.
Cyclists, rickshaw drivers and pedestrians face the risk of accidents everyday on the roads of India’s towns and cities teeming with cars, a symbol of the growth in the country’s middle class in the last decade after economic reforms in the 1990s. The growth has, however, seen a skewed road infrastructure development in favour of cars instead of simultaneous development of facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. According to official figures for 2012 from India’s Road Transport and Highways Ministry, the Indian capital alone witnessed five deaths and injuries to 18 people everyday, most of them pedestrians and cyclists. A survey conducted by Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based rights advocacy group, found that while there are eight million walking and cycling trips in Delhi compared to three million car trips, the city’s roads continue to be designed for cars.
‘Light a Cycle’ campaign is run on donations from the residents of Gurgaon, most of them visitors of the ‘Raahgiri’ movement or the NMT-Gurgaon group (an email group that pushes for the rights of NMT in Gurgaon). With the help of the money it collects, the campaign team buys the expensive high quality retro reflective tapes that they stick on the cycles and rickshaws of the poor, who are unaware of their benefits and also can’t afford them. “With nine pieces of red, yellow and white adhesive reflectors, a cyclist or a rickshaw can get optimization of visibility on the roads,” says Chetan Agarwal, another member of the core team.
Volunteers roped in from visitors of Raahgiri and the circle of contacts and help at the stall every Sunday from morning until noon to put the reflectors. The volunteers help in hailing down cycles and rickshaws, running a counter, handling donations and an initial free registration is done (collecting contact details for follow up) before other team members take over to put the stickers.“This is my fourth week,” says Sanghera, a Class VII student of a private school in Gurgaon. Vinita Khanna, an executive at a multinational company in Gurgaon, is another volunteer, who has decided to keep her Sunday mornings for the campaign. “This is my second week at the ‘Light a Cycle’ campaign and I intend to come back every Sunday,” says Khanna, who was earlier involved in voluntary work to increase traffic awareness on Gurgaon’s roads by asking motorists to follow the rules.
According to Katrak, a soft skills trainer for corporates who now spends an equal time on social causes, the campaign needs more volunteers to run it smoothly every week. “We need more people coming forward with donations and their time so that we are able to cater to many more cycles and rickshaws,” she adds. Though about 100 cycles and rickshaws seek the services of the campaign team in a week, there are days when they receive up to 300 vehicles. “It is a challenge to maintain the number of volunteers needed to attend to the vehicles,” adds Katrak, who keeps a notebook to write down phone numbers of anyone she meets during the ‘Raahgiri’, who can help with this initiative in any way, especially by taking it to cyclists at condominiums or corporates. Katrak adds “A few weeks back, a GM from Maruti happened to visit the stall and stopped to enquire what we were doing. We are glad that he was inspired by what we were doing, and has taken this forward, so Maruti is now covering 5000 cyclists on their premises under this initiative
“I have never heard about these safety stickers before I was stopped today and requested to paste them to prevent accidents,” says Ismail Mian, who has been driving a cycle rickshaw for the last nine years. Rajive Nandwani, another member says there is a need to widen the size and scale of the campaign to include cyclists and rickshaw drivers in other locations. “We will be happy if people like us in other towns and cities take up this model and help save the lives of cyclists and rickshaw drivers,” Katrak says