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Sustainable Cities
Updated: 10 min 17 sec ago

Cities that inspire us for United Nations Global Road Safety Week 2015

Thu, 2014-05-01 00:46

Pedestrianization projects like those is Istanbul, Turkey can reduce traffic crashes and protect pedestrians. Photo by Andres Arjona/Flickr.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the third Global Road Safety Week occurred in April 2014. The third Global Road Safety week is planned for 2015. 

Already there are 1.2 million traffic-related deaths per year worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, if we stay on a business-as-usual course, road fatalities are expected to become the fifth-leading cause of death by 2030. In order to stem this rising crisis, the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration has set up a yearly Global Road Safety Week to convene country leaders, draw attention to the urgent need to protect all road users worldwide, and create policies that advance the goals of the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

But committing to road safety takes more than writing policy; it necessitates understanding not simply how urban systems should work, but the subtle ways in which humans actually act in these spaces. This understanding means true success can only occur when urban residents both refuse to accept auto-centric development and know concrete steps they can take to correct unsafe situations. In honor of the UN Global Road Safety Collaboration announcing its commitment to Global Road Safety Week 2015, TheCityFix has rounded up some of our favorite examples of cities addressing road safety challenges and their innovative solutions to bring back human-centered mobility.

The re-making of public spaces in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey faced the problem of needing to move a daytime population of 2.5 million people efficiently around its Historic Peninsula. The city needed to advance its infrastructure to meet the needs of its residents, yet the small, twisting alleyways of the historic district made this task appear impossible without creating several highways. Yet this solution would have decimated the rich character of the area.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the Fatih Municipality, in collaboration with EMBARQ Turkey, worked to pedestrianize some 250 streets in Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula. In order to move people efficiently throughout the peninsula, the city also installed a light-rail trolley. These pedestrianization projects have had multiple benefits, from supporting physical activity, growing economic development through the increase in customers walking along commercial corridors, and producing better air quality. Istanbul’s example shows that it is possible to build pedestrian spaces that improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, without sacrificing mobility.

Accessibility in Bangalore: Putting pedestrians first

With 10 million people, the city of Bangalore has doubled its population over the past twenty years. With this increase in population has come an explosion in the rates of motorization, with 50% of households now owning motorized transport. Much of this new wealth has gone towards road construction and expansion. This increasingly auto-centric infrastructure has resulted in disappearing sidewalks and barriers between pedestrians and car users and increased congestion on roadways. This leads to an increase in traffic crashes, particularly those involving pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

But Bangalore is working to reverse this trend and restore pedestrian infrastructure. The “Towards a Walkable and Sustainable Bengaluru: A Safe Access Project for Indiranagar Metro” project looks to increase safe access to Bangalore’s metro stations for residents using all kinds of transport, while preserving the vibrant informal economy of street vendors and rickshaw drivers that rely on these transport hubs.

Leading locally for large-scale change

Already, half of the world lives in cities. By 2050, 70 percent of people are expected to live in cities. If we begin to think of road safety as an afterthought in this rapid urbanization process, it will be too late. To maintain cities as locations for opportunity and innovation, we need to preserve the flow of people and goods through safe and efficient transportation. Well-planned cities that offer multiple sustainable mobility options will improve urbanites’ quality of life and provide access to opportunities. Examples like Istanbul and Bangalore, combined with EMBARQ’s other road safety work in cities across the globe, offers strong examples for how to make this safe, connected, sustainable future possible.

Hailing autos everywhere: Entrepreneurial ideas transform Chennai’s auto-rickshaw sector

Mon, 2014-04-28 22:30

New services are venturing to transform the way the auto-rickshaw sector is managed in Chennai, India – to the benefit of users. Photo by Matthieu Aubry/Flickr.

Chennai, the capital of the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has long been infamous for the poor quality of its auto-rickshaw services. Until recently, it was best known for delinquent drivers fleecing passengers as they refused to use fare meters. However, a long unmet desire for reliable last-mile connectivity has catalyzed private entrepreneurs to venture into the auto-rickshaw sector. These private entrepreneurs, such as the new Makkal Auto service, have in the past month improved the quality of transport for their own passengers through transparency and smart use of technology. Combined with state government’s reforms aimed at ensuring fair pricing, the hope is that the actions of Makkal Auto and other entrepreneurs will spark a paradigm shift in the efficiency and quality of the city’s auto-rickshaw services.

Makkal Auto brings entrepreneurial mindset to auto-rickshaw sector

Makkal Auto’ means “people’s auto” in Tamil. While another private auto-rickshaw service with the same name exists in Coimbatore, Mansoor Ali Khan, the founder of Makkal Auto (Chennai) and the co-founder of Namma Auto, believes this is a good thing. A familiar name, he hopes, will bring credibility and an emotional connection with it.

Namma Auto, meaning “our auto” in Tamil, was launched in May 2013 as the first private company providing metered auto-rickshaw services in Chennai. It provides hassle-free, metered rides and allows users to both call to book an auto-rickshaw or flag one down on the roadside. Besides using a digital meter and providing courteous service, Namma Auto rickshaw drivers give printed receipts of the fare to passengers. One unanticipated challenge is that Namma Auto’s strong branding makes it easier for unions and other more scrupulous drivers to stop them from gaining customers at traditional rickshaw stands. This issue has not been formally resolved, but despite lingering tensions,  the owners of Namma Auto are learning from such obstacles, and hope to make Makkal Auto a better venture.

Learning lessons on leveraging resources

One of Makkal Auto’s biggest strengths is its use of technology. Each of the rickshaw drivers has a tablet with software developed by Singapore-based company Terratech. The software presents information to the passenger – information about the driver, advertisements for local stores, and in the future possibly documentaries and television series to watch. The tablet also acts as a GPS system, allowing the company’s owners to see where the rickshaws are most needed and monitor the movement of the autos.

Since the tablet is a big investment (each one costs INR 20,000 or USD 330), the use of the tablets is being rolled out slowly. The tablet is currently being used in 100 auto-rickshaws, of which 25 are owned directly by Makkal Auto. So far, the technology seems wildly successful, with a list of 800 drivers who are willing to use this meter in their vehicle, and several companies wanting to place their advertisements on the rickshaw’s tablet.

Along with the tablet, Makkal Auto also offers a “help” button. When pressed, it alerts the traffic police control room and the Makkal Auto regional office. Pressing the help button also initiates the camera in the tablet to start recording automatically, providing passengers an extra layer of security. However, since the meter runs on the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) system, it is necessary that the infrastructure is in place for the tablets to work. Makkal Auto has also started providing cashless payment options to passengers.  Currently, this capability is only being used in 15 rickshaws, but it would be surprising if the practice did not expand. Cashless payment gives the company’s owners better tracking of their business, and gives customers less of a reason to carry around large sums of money, and in turn, more security.

Makkal Auto’s new auto-rickshaw meters attach tablets, enabling passengers access to GPS and even entertainment during their ride. Photo by Roshan Toshniwal.

Placing importance on safety and courtesy

Makkal Auto has also seen immense success for its female only auto-rickshaw services. Inspired by the Pink auto initiative in Gurgaon, Makkal Auto provides auto rickshaws driven by women to cater to women, children, the elderly, and men accompanying female passengers. Currently, there are 25 trained female drivers in their service. The company helped these women to obtain their driver’s license and also helps them grow their customer base. The company also provides the women auto-rickshaws on a rental basis.

In addition to this increased concern for women’s safety, Makkal Auto has placed a central emphasis on courtesy. Makkal Auto’s drivers have been instructed to charge as per the meter, and not ask for tips. If the commuter is happy with the driver’s service, there is an option to leave a tip in a donation box where the passenger sits. This is a more dignified approach, as it creates a more relaxing environment for the user and prompts the driver to deliver better service.

Makkal Auto’s strategic use of technology and increased courtesy is likely to be successful, but it is not simply this singular company’s success that is incredible. As Indian citizens recognize how a rickshaw service can be safe, comfortable, and tech-savvy, user’s preferences are likely to force other rickshaw companies to deliver the same calibre of service. By increasing the expectations of auto-rickshaw drivers, and giving the drivers the technological tools to deliver on those expectations, it has the capability to transform the auto-rickshaw sector and significantly improve mobility in Indian cities.


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