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50 Shades of Shared: The Evolution of India’s Taxis, Rickshaws and Other For-Hire-Vehicles

Mon, 2017-08-21 19:16

Photo by Chris Bird/Flickr

India’s urban transport sector has seen tremendous change in the last 15 years. This series examines the evolution of the for-hire vehicles sector, the regulatory response to it and its place in the mobility network of the future.

Indian cities are growing at an unprecedented rate and an accompanying surge in the demand for transport services is inevitable. Forecasts suggest that by 2031, urban Indians will take nearly half a billion trips a day. Today, most of these journeys are completed on foot or bicycle, but as cities continue to sprawl and the distance traveled increases (from 11 kilometers on average in 2011 to 15 kilometers by 2031), the need for motorized trips will grow.

In cities like Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, public transit makes up the largest share of motorized trips, but for-hire-vehicles, such as city taxis and autorickshaws, have long played a significant role as well. An integral part of many Indian cities, they often fill the gap between public and private transport. The recent growth of large, privately run fleets and the development of on-demand technology have increased the options available to commuters, while also changing the way these services are accessed.

This raises important questions about the future of the sector. Will mobility in Indian cities be categorized by separate public and private options, or will there be varying shades of shared options? Can innovations reduce travel time and meet rising demand, while also reducing emissions?

A Changing Market

In India, the for-hire vehicle (FHV) sector has been dominated by city taxis and autorickshaws for decades. Every day, millions of people employ their services in a range of contexts, from “last-mile” connectivity along public transit routes, to a cheaper alternative to owning a private vehicle, to simply providing more reliable service than public transit. According to the Comprehensive Mobility Plan for Greater Mumbai, FHVs accounted for 1.4 million trips a day or 16 percent of the city’s motorized mode share in 2015.

But over the last 15 years, private sector investments, advancements in technology and the increasing use of mobile phones have transformed how people interact with FHVs. Now, urban commuters may choose to hail a taxi or autorickshaw the old-fashioned way, but they can also call, text, WhatsApp or e-hail them, or even request just a seat in a shared taxi or bus.

The trajectory of the FHV market in India can be broken into four phases, which will be explored in greater detail over the course of this series.

 

Phase 1: The first phase of FHVs in India, beginning in 1959, is iconic with its black and yellow taxis and autorickshaws. Similar to the yellow medallion taxis of New York and the tuk-tuks of Thailand, these ecosystems are largely informal and unorganized but continue to this day. Though many regard city taxis and auto-rickshaws as dependable and affordable, they are also notorious for refusing rides, bargaining over fares and providing poor income to drivers.

Phase 2:  Recognizing the opportunity for formalized FHV services, several fleet management companies started emerging at the turn of the century to better organize drivers. They allowed commuters to pre-book a vehicle via phone or website. A vehicle would then be dispatched from a central base or call center. Known in India as the radio taxi or fleet taxi model, this second phase systematized a relatively unorganized sector and brought in measures of quality control.

Phase 3: Further improvements in mobile technology ushered in the “aggregator” or “on-demand” phase. Companies no longer had to own a fleet, and factors such as customer discovery, driver routing and dispatch became simpler and more automated. Companies simply connected drivers to commuters via smart phones. Aggregator services are also expanding to include bigger vehicles, such as buses, and using crowdsourcing technology to develop new routes that better meet customer demand.

Phase 4: We are only beginning to see the fourth phase, of mobility as a service with more seamless, multi-modal commuting experiences. In cities such as Helsinki, Paris, Las Vegas and Singapore, access to transit is becoming a commodity. The vision is of a digital platform on which you can buy units of mobility across all modes of transport, from public to shared to private, instead of paying for individual bus tickets, cab rides or buying a car. In India, we are seeing the initial building blocks of such an ecosystem being put into place. A plethora of apps are already in the market, leveraging crowdsourcing and open data to provide real-time information, allow for cashless transactions and enable commuters to choose from a range of options.

The Future of Urban Mobility in India?

The connected vision of multi-modal transit in Indian cities, where for-hire vehicles blend seamlessly with public transit options, is still in its infancy. Most mass transit options such as city buses and suburban rail networks continue to be managed by public agencies. Private players have tried to step up and plug service gaps, but they have been thwarted by regulatory barriers.

The future depends on smart regulation and nuanced public policy that can balance a legitimate concern for the public good, commuter safety and system efficiency, with the innovations and investment that the private sector can provide.

Jyot Chadha is the Director for Urban Innovation at WRI India Sustainable Cities.

Ojas Shetty is a Research Consultant with the Urban Innovation team at WRI India Sustainable Cities.

What will it take to create smart cities in India?

Thu, 2015-01-15 11:25

With the right priorities and development strategies, India’s smart cities initiative has the potential to make cities more sustainable, inclusive, and safe. Photo by rebel/Flickr.

In June 2014, the Government of India announced its ambitious plan to build smart cities across the country. This plan will be administered by the Ministry of Urban Development, and will focus on building new smart cities and redeveloping existing urban regions with populations of over 100,000 people. The government announced last July that it will invest US$1.2 billion in smart cities over the next year, which will be supplemented by funding from private investors and foreign players.

The program will include city-wide developments to improve methods for engaging citizens and addressing their needs, building capacity among city officials, and moving to e-governance through use of technology. Cities will also be asked to develop holistic city development plans with a vision for zero emissions and zero waste. They will then be provided funding to pursue strategic infrastructure projects as part of the city development plan. Cities will be asked to identify priority sectors and will receive viability gap funding from the central government. The private sector is expected to invest another INR 1000 – 1200 crore (US$1.6 – 1.9 billion) in these projects. Additionally, states will be asked to identify areas for large investments, either for retrofitting or redevelopment in existing cities or greenfield cities. The national government envisions investing 15% to 20% of necessary financing, with the rest of the funding coming from the private sector.

To make the most of this push for smarter cities, city and national leaders need to plan a comprehensive urbanization strategy, taking advantage of the latest developments in technology, creating employment opportunities, and supporting economic activities that will improve quality of life for citizens. By focusing on improved mobility and access, good urban design, equitable land management, and accessing the required financing, India’s cities can grow efficiently, sustainably, and inclusively, transforming urban life across the country.

Smarter mobility systems for more connected cities

As cities grow, the demand for transport grows, as well. Increased investment in public transport systems and a focus on transit-oriented development (TOD) are necessary to make cities more energy efficient, better connected, and less polluted.

Further, cities must focus on the financial sustainability of public transit projects through managing subsidies, pricing, and private investment in public transit, while also allowing for equitable access. Facilitating the use of disruptive new technologies and data for improved transport operations and safety can also encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in future investments. For example, EMBARQ India’s Bus Karo 2.0 – Case Studies from India report provides multiple examples of how cities can make conventional bus systems and bus rapid transit (BRT) more financially sustainable and efficient, reducing the need for private cars. Beyond buses, we’ve also seen how new reforms and regulations can help auto-rickshaws support public transport by improving last-mile connectivity.

Good urban design principles for more liveable cities  

At the neighborhood or community scale, smart city investments will be strongly influenced by building codes and development control regulations. When well thought out, these regulations help improve walkability, transit use, road safety, energy consumption, and carbon emissions. At the city scale, good governance involves a focus on the urban design strategies of TOD and mixed-use development. These strategies support housing development near transit and employment opportunities, short trips lengths, and safer walkability in all parts of the city. One Indian city pursuing this type of development is Naya Raipur. Together with EMBARQ India, the Naya Raipur Development Authority has prioritized bike and pedestrian networks, open public spaces, and mixed-use development to create a safer, more accessible, and more inclusive neighborhood design.

Supporting smart city investments while ensuring equity

Cities have a variety of land aggregation and management strategies to acquire land and make it available for development in a cost-effective and inclusive way. These tools allow cities and developers to make infrastructure investments while compensating existing residents in an equitable fashion. Eight different instruments have been used by different agencies in Indian cities with varying levels of success. These include bulk acquisition through the newly updated land acquisition act; the town planning scheme mechanism used mainly in Gujarat; the 12.5% reserve price mechanism used by the City Industrial Development Corporation in Navi Mumbai; land pooling mechanisms in Delhi; cluster redevelopment policy used in Mumbai; transfer of development rights used in Mumbai and other cities; and accommodation and reservation rules used in Mumbai. The lessons learned from these projects will be extremely useful for smart city investments.

Financing smart cities

A significant portion of the investment in smart cities is expected to come from the private sector or through public-private partnerships. To consistently access finance, monitor progress, and ensure accountability from city leaders, use of city-level performance metrics across economic, social, and environmental indicators is essential. This will also help attract private investment in cities.

Nearly 600 million people will call urban India home by 2030. We must take advantage of the government’s efforts to build smart cities to ensure these cities are sustainable, inclusive, and safe. Prioritizing sustainable mobility, urban design, land management, and finance, we can create smart and sustainable Indian cities and improve quality of life for millions.

The rise of technology-enabled taxis in Indian cities: A Q&A with OLA’s Arvind Singhatiya

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:18

Technology-enabled taxis are helping fill a mobility service vacuum in Indian cities. Photo by Chrisbirds.com/Flickr.

New mobile technologies are helping transform mobility services in cities worldwide, including across India. EMBARQ India interviewed Arvind Singhatiya, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at OLA (formerly OLA Cabs), to better understand how mobile technologies are helping to meet growing demand for urban mobility in India.  

Why is a service like OLA important for Indian cities? How has OLA grown over the last few years?

Indian cities are the country’s growth engines. With the current growth rate, the need for reliable mobility services has become critical. There is a huge gap in supply and demand of public transport with decreased resources and increased commuters. The rise of private vehicles has added to the challenges of urbanization, including increased traffic and parking problems in Indian cities. However, the growth of smartphone use and mobile Internet has enhanced access among city dwellers.

The name “OLA” comes from the Spanish word “hola,” which means “hello.” A trademark of ANI Technologies, OLA first introduced the concept of booking a cab through an online mobile platform in India in 2011. In the short span of three and a half years, the mobile app has become country’s most downloaded and used app. The number of vehicles using OLA software grew from 100 to 60,000 in this time, and total commuters grew from a few hundred to more than 100,000 every day in 54 cities across the country.

OLA has helped citizens understand and use intermediary public transport (IPT) instead of their own vehicle because OLA is equally convenient. It addresses the challenges of vehicle ownership like cost and parking struggles. We estimate that a single OLA cab removes 6 cars from the road.

In addition to cabs, OLA software is now empowering auto-rickshaws in the country, a hugely unorganized sector, but one that has the potential to reach every commuter. Common challenges with three-wheelers are non-transparent fares and undue haggling with drivers, but those piloting the OLA software for rickshaws have accepted the platform and decided to follow the government meter fitted in them, making rickshaws visible to customers through the app and making payment more transparent.

Most drivers using OLA software are actually micro-entrepreneurs who own the vehicle. We help drivers with business intelligence to enhance their earnings; with the use of analytics we are able to identify high demand zones in every city that helps drivers get more bookings and helps commuters get a reliable service all the time.

How is the demand for mobility services in Indian cities expected to grow? What role do taxi aggregator services like OLA play within the larger urban mobility network?

The exponential rise of OLA’s service is clear evidence of the mobility service vacuum existing in India. These are exciting times and the mobility revolution is about to begin. India is on its growth trajectory, the new government and its policies are business and investment friendly, and mobility will become one of the most important factors for growth. We are not just aggregators but an online transport facilitation platform, which is a much wider term embracing all possible modes of transport that can be accommodated by our platform. We look forward to playing an important role in the growth story of India.

In your opinion, what are the key actions city leaders can take to support sustainable and efficient mobility? 

Mobility has become a basic need and the easiest way to fulfill it for some is to own a private vehicle. This may not be the best solution; promoting intermediate public transport should be the first step to ensure last-mile connectivity for any public transport system anywhere in the country. A robust public transport system complemented by efficient intermediary public transport (cabs, rickshaws, and more) solves half of the challenges in mobility.

Multi-modal transport through public transport and intermediary public transport should be backed with a common payment system that integrates the whole system and gives commuters a seamless experience. A robust public transport and intermediate public transport system should be supported through taxation to discourage use of personal vehicles in order to improve the city traffic and parking challenges. This will also address the issue of vehicular pollution by reducing vehicles on roads.

Mobility should now be at the helm of urban planning discussions. A city transport plan looking at the way people move around by different modes of transport is essential. These include walking, cycling, bus, train, taxi, motorcycle, car, freight vehicles, and more. To develop the most effective mobility plan, it is vital to involve the public to ensure that the end result is something that brings them the greatest benefit.

What does a supportive ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in urban mobility look like to you? 

There are a few key factors for a supportive ecosystem. Transport-related legislations should be updated regularly to keep up with the country’s changing mobility environment. A simpler regulatory regime that ensures commuters’ safety and security and accommodates innovations is necessary. In other words, we need fewer gray areas in regulations.

Integrating land use and transport planning also offers clear benefits in reducing travel time and enhancing accessibility. Finally, alternative mass transit options need to be explored by appropriate studies and research.

How cities can provide universally accessible mobility services: A Q&A with Tom Rickert

Mon, 2014-10-27 21:27

Though progress has been made, cities worldwide must continue to implement universal design solutions that make transport services accessible for disabled persons. Photo by Igor Schutz/Flickr.

TheCityFix recently interviewed Tom Rickert – Founder and Executive Director of Access Exchange International – to learn more about how cities can improve mobility for disabled persons. Access Exchange International was founded in 1990 to promote accessible public transport for persons with disabilities and seniors in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Eastern Europe. An estimated 650 million people live with a disability, and 80% of these people live in developing countries. Cities around the world can use relatively cheap, effective strategies to help improve the accessibility of new and existing transport modes for disabled persons.

Tell us about some of the broad global trends in transport accessibility for disabled and senior persons.

Tom Rickert: I think the broad trends are favorable. When I started Access Exchange International in 1990, there was scarcely any country with an effective policy framework to promote universal access to public transportation. Currently, improvements are being made in countries around the world, and not only in policy, but in implementation.

But disability correlates with poverty, so the disabled poor are especially going to need affordable and reliable public transportation. And disability also correlates with aging. The percentage of the world’s population that is elderly is sharply increasing and the majority of older people are in so called “less wealthy countries.” In Guangzhou, China for example, the city has built a remarkably successful bus rapid transit (BRT) system, but some of its main stations are not accessible except through stairs. So even the best systems still have a way to go and the demographics are not going to make it any easier as the years go by!

What are some of the best things that cities can do to improve mobility for disabled persons?

TR: There are many strategies that municipalities can use. Mostly, these strategies help all passengers by implementing universal design features. On the whole, accessibility improvements for disabled people are not expensive and they help everyone else. One big strategy is to train bus and paratransit drivers to be sensitive and courteous to disabled persons. Usually passengers with disabilities are best served by fleets that serve everyone. Other times you are going to need a dedicated fleet. Many years ago, I coordinated paratransit for disabled persons in San Francisco, where we now have a dedicated fleet of vans and an integrated fleet of taxis that provides 800,000 trips every year.

I think it is vital that municipalities in less-wealthy countries should task an employee to provide an inventory of what services are available for disabled, senior, or frail persons. They should see what paratransit is available in the public, private, and NGO sectors. Perhaps cities can offer some services to these stakeholders, such as working on pooled driver training, insurance, fueling, maintenance, or even pooled leasing or purchase of vehicle fleets. The economies of scale could help lower paratransit fares for disabled passengers even in cities that cannot directly subsidize these fares.

Can you talk more about the role that small vehicles play in transport for disabled people in many cities worldwide?

TR: I think auto-rickshaws, moto-taxis, and other small vehicles have an important role. On the whole, they are easy to get in to, have a low floor, and generally lend themselves to accessible transport for many disabled persons, with the important exception that wheelchair users would have to fold their wheelchairs and many cannot ride that way. But the cost for disabled persons to use three-wheelers is 40-50% less than alternative vehicles. You get up to double the number of trips for a disabled person from a three-wheeler than you do from a taxi or a van. We’ve looked at this in India, Peru, Mexico, and Tanzania, and it appears to be true across regions. This is not a case of “one mode fits all,” but smaller vehicles can make a big difference for the disabled poor. They can assist people with different abilities to move around and get to jobs, schools, and health care like everyone else.

What role does new technology play in advancing paratransit options?

TR: Cell phones are ubiquitous, and smartphones are becoming less expensive and more common around the world. That brings new possibilities for door-to-door service. If you are disabled or frail, you may not be able to hail a cab. But you could use a smartphone to get an auto-rickshaw in India or a moto-taxi with a passenger cabin in Latin America.

The apps used by Uber or Lyft haven’t been incorporated into a successful business model for disabled persons yet. In San Francisco, wheelchair users have found that there are fewer ramped taxis, and the unregulated Uber drivers can’t serve them. It is a big problem. But you could simplify this concept and hopefully provide genuine ridesharing to serve disabled people. A neighborhood app could work in low-income areas to help provide ridesharing of a very different nature, including getting rider feedback to build trust and trust worthiness into the system. People need to look into neighborhood-level services where people help one another.

Has the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities been influential?

TR: It has definitely had a positive impact. To some extent the Convention was a child of advocates in Latin America. People are surprised that 150 countries have ratified it, not just signed it. It is an expression of intent, though the sad reality is in much of the world it doesn’t have much grip on anything. Nearly every country in the Americas has ratified the UN Convention. So it is pretty universal. And that has an impact on local policy frameworks. Yet right now you find countries that ratified it but don’t have a single employee who deals with universal access to public transportation. But I think as the years go by, it is going to take its place as a very key document.

Can auto-rickshaw fare reform in Chennai lead users to choose sustainable transport?

Tue, 2014-09-16 19:55

Rickshaw fare regulation has caused some users to shift their mode of transport from private vehicles to auto-rickshaws in Chennai, though further reforms are necessary to address drivers’ concerns. Photo by Morgan Schmorgan/Flickr.

Chennai, India has long been notorious for its lawless auto-rickshaw drivers. On August 25, 2013, the Tamil Nadu state government sought to change this perception by reforming rickshaw fare structures for the first time in 17 years. The government was forced to implement the reform based on a directive from the Supreme Court following a petition filed in 2010. Tamil Nadu’s transport commissioner hosted a closed door meeting with stakeholders to gather input for the rerforms and with EMBARQ India’s assistance, the state devised a meter-based fare system acceptable to all. However, it remains unclear whether this restructuring will have a significant impact on either the users or the drivers’ perception of the system, or whether the restructuring will shift users away from private cars to the more sustainable transport option.

To uncover whether or not fare restructuring had an impact on user behavior, EMBARQ India spent three months speaking to over 500 commuters and 500 auto-rickshaw drivers in the city, along with stakeholders such as government officials, auto-rickshaw union leaders, entrepreneurs, activists and journalists, to discover how the fare restructuring has impacted customers and drivers – and identify what challenges still remain.

The impact of fare reform on commuter choices

EMBARQ India’s surveys, conducted between February and April 2014, revealed that the price reforms prompted many commuters to shift their dominant mode of transport. At the beginning of the survey, 89% of respondents reported that they use their personal vehicles due to the poor quality of auto-rickshaw and public transport services in Chennai. Nearly 80% of respondents, however, reported having shifted some trips from other modes of transport to auto-rickshaws after the reforms.

The survey has also shown that pricing reform has influenced residents’ decisions to buy cars. Almost 79% of the respondents owned personal vehicles, of which 73% were not planning to buy another motor vehicle after the auto-rickshaw meter reform. From the respondents who did not own any vehicle, 63% are not planning to buy any personal vehicle.

Both of these shifts in mindset speak to the positive influence of fare reform on perceptions and usage of Chennai’s auto-rickshaw fleet, providing residents a viable and sustainable mobility option beyond the car.

Auto-rickshaw drivers more resistant to meter reform

By contrast, roughly 87% of auto-rickshaw drivers were not satisfied with the meter reform, and have been hesitant to accept it. This is largely due to the fact that while the daily average distance travelled by drivers has marginally increased from 97 km (about 60 miles) per day to 98 km (about 61 miles) per day and the daily average number of trips has also marginally increased from 21 to 22 per day, “dead trips” – where no one is in the vehicle – have also increased by about 4% on average. In short, drivers are driving more but losing revenue. In addition, when auto-rickshaw drivers are earning money, they aren’t earning as much – drivers report a drop in earnings of 24% from 720 INR (USD 12) before reform to 547 INR (USD 9) after the fare reform. It must be noted, however, that this reduction in income could not be confirmed because fare price before the reform was largely based on the bargaining acumen of the rider.

Because of the drivers’ resistance, the state government has established a grievance call center for customers to register complaints regarding drivers’ non-compliance with the new meter policy. Transport authorities intend to take strict action against the accused drivers, but putting the burden on the customer to enforce a state-wide policy is not an ideal solution for any party involved.

Challenges ahead for successful fare reforms

For potential customers, the main factor preventing them from using auto-rickshaws during heavy traffic periods is over-charging by auto-rickshaw drivers. According to the survey, 48% of commuters found that drivers are still negotiating for a higher fare or are asking for extra money over the meter reading. Although it is true that drivers are burning more fuel and travelling shorter lengths for the same fare, a middle ground between strict regulation and pure negotiation is the route that would satisfy both drivers and passengers.

Additionally, 16% of customers believe that the metered fares are still not competitive to other cities and other modes of transport in the city. About 25% of commuters blame the culture of the drivers, including rudeness or harassment, as a reason not to use auto-rickshaws, while 5% cite safety concerns.

Drivers’ concerns relate more to overregulation in a competitive market. About 21% of the auto drivers feel that competing share-autos and share-taxis have cut into their ridership and revenue. In such a competitive market, they feel it is necessary to have the freedom to barter. About 4% of auto drivers are frustrated by the need to bribe the Regional Transport Office for permits, license and fitness certificates and feel victimized by the new regulated fare.

Others say that they cannot use the meter system because the reported 24% reduction in earnings does not give them enough income to live on. Another 7% cite the fluctuation of fuel prices, and a fare that does not rise with it, as a challenge. Finally, 37% of the drivers reported an increase in dead trips as a challenge.

This resistance to the fare reform will likely continue without necessary adjustments. To increase the number of commuters using sustainable transport like rickshaws, Chennai must establish a mutual consensus between all stakeholders. To help further reform the system, EMBARQ India plans to expand these statistics with more robust recommendations to help the city, drivers, and commuters resolve these challenges.

To learn more about the impact of auto-rickshaw fare reforms in Chennai, see EMBARQ India’s survey results here. For further questions regarding EMBARQ India’s survey, please write to Roshan Toshniwal at rtoshniwal@embarqindia.org.

Regulation can help e-rickshaws transform urban mobility across India

Mon, 2014-08-04 20:35

E-rickshaws offer multiple advantages over more common auto-rickshaws, but require increased regulation to ensure passenger safety. Photo by Subhash Barolia/Flickr.

As one of the most widely used forms of intermediate public transport or paratransit – services that connect users to mass transport systems like buses or metro – auto-rickshaws are ubiquitous in Indian cities. The electric rickshaw (e-rickshaw), however, emerged as an even cheaper alternative in 2011. E-rickshaws are similar to a motorcycle combined with a rickshaw, and have immense potential to provide low-cost mobility to many of India’s residents. However, cities need to create safety regulations and build appropriate infrastructure to make sure this transport mode is simultaneously affordable and safe.

E-rickshaws serve as an important form of transport primarily around the expanding Delhi metro area. Over 1,500 e-rickshaws reportedly hit Delhi’s streets in 2013 and an additional 90,000 have been added in the first half of 2014.

E-rickshaws are cheaper to buy and operate than auto-rickshaws, and rising fuel prices have made them even more attractive compared to vehicles that run on petrol or natural gas. E-rickshaws cost about half as much as conventional rickshaws at about RS 85,000 (around USD 1,400), while conventional auto-rickshaws cost about RS 1.68 lakh (around USD 2,750).

E-rickshaws cause safety concerns

The rapid emergence of e-rickshaws on Indian streets, coupled with a lack of regulation of their use, has made them quite the safety concern. E-rickshaws generally carry 6-8 passengers, though their aluminum body is designed to hold only 4-6 passengers. Additionally, the braking equipment has not been checked by any government authority, making it unreliable. The sharp turning capability of e-rickshaws coupled with its high speeds also raises questions about its stability when making turns.

E-rickshaws run on electric batteries and need to be charged, which can put extra strain on the already overused electricity grid. According to media reports, manufacturers equip e-rickshaws with batteries capable of more than 750W of power to achieve higher speeds and carry more passengers – a clear violation of the non-motorized criteria under the Delhi Motor Vehicles (MV) Act of 1993. E-rickshaws take about 6 to 8 hours to charge, and dozens of e-rickshaws often fight over the limited street charging stations. This creates a nuisance at best and a safety problem for other city residents at worst. Because of the lack of charging stations in Delhi, many drivers tap into electric lines on streets to charge.

E-rickshaws are significantly less regulated than auto-rickshaws

Auto-rickshaw drivers must pay RS 2,000 (about USD 34) for a new, renewed, or transferred license. In this way, government officials are made aware of the number of auto-rickshaws on the streets, and can use this information to create and enforce standards that make auto-rickshaws comparatively safer. Auto-rickshaw drivers need to be tested (though minimally), and their fares are regulated – all of which is better for the passengers who use these vehicles. Since e-rickshaws are not considered to be motor vehicles, they do not need to be registered, and neither the vehicle itself nor the driver needs to be tested to see if they satisfy the minimum operational and driving standards. Drivers determine fares themselves, leaving the door open to overcharge or even exploit the passenger.

City leaders are now responding to the rise of e-rickshaws with stricter regulations, though these have been met with stiff resistance from drivers. The Delhi government recently ordered all manufacturers to get clearance and quality inspection on their products. When manufacturers subsequently failed to conduct quality inspections, the government banned e-rickshaws in Delhi in April 2014. Following political backlash and protests from the e-rickshaw union in Delhi, the government decided to lift the ban with the stipulation that all vehicles are required to undergo inspection for safety and operational capabilities. However, on July 31, 2014, the Delhi High Court directed the city government to stop the use of e-rickshaws until a law is framed to regulate them.

How to integrate e-rickshaws into cities safely

Cities can create more appropriate regulations by amending the Delhi Motor Vehicles Act of 1993 to ensure that e-rickshaws are safer, and that road infrastructure safely accounts for their use.

Making sure that e-rickshaws are safe requires starting with quality assurance, from inspecting body parts’ load capacity, tires, brake equipment, and turning radius. These inspections should be carried out for new and existing vehicles. People who drive e-rickshaws for the city should not be penalized if vehicle violations are detected, otherwise problems will never be reported. These policies will require the cooperation of drivers, manufacturers, and India’s Central Government to enforce such regulations.

Infrastructure must also change to support e-rickshaws. Proper charging stations must be installed around the city, and auto-mechanics must be taught how to handle problems specific to e-rickshaws. Charging stations can be integrated into existing fuel stations without placing a heavy burden on fuel-station owners. In fact, developing infrastructure to support e-rickshaws can help Indian cities. Batteries currently imported from China can be made locally to help bring money to India’s communities and lower the cost of batteries for e-rickshaw drivers.

Getting drivers and manufacturers to agree on policies and changing cities’ infrastructure to accommodate e-rickshaws will be enormously challenging. However, once Delhi and the Central Government tackle these challenges and improve safety, e-rickshaws have the potential to expand access to mobility in Indian cities and increase connectivity for residents.

Pitfalls and potential: Climate change vulnerability in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Thu, 2014-06-12 19:34

The Buriganga River in the Bangladeshi city of Dhaka provides transport for the city—yet reminds Dhaka’s residents of the need to build resilience into the city as sea levels continue to escalate around the world as global temperatures rise. Photo by William Veerbeek/Flickr.

According to the United Nations, temperatures are likely to warm anywhere from 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, and scientists warn that “the world is ill-equipped to deal with the impacts of warming.” To help the lives impacted by this changing world, the United Nations member states declared their commitment to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 – the seventh goal being to ensure environmental sustainability. With 2015 quickly approaching, however, further action must be taken in countries where progress is slow, and this includes Bangladesh.

While Bangladesh may not be contributing as much as the developed world to this rise in global temperatures, the country is a microcosm of the adaptation challenges that will continue to escalate around the world, and holds many lessons for building a more resilient urban future.

Bangladesh has already seen its share of intense floods and storms related to climate change: the country’s leaders are well aware of the havoc that higher temperatures and a three-foot rise in sea level will cause. Furthermore, the country is at a critical point, with 142 million people living in low-lying, flood-prone river deltas in both cities and rural areas, with tenuous infrastructure to evacuate them. Even in the face of these challenges, if Bangladesh can find a way to mitigate its current carbon impacts and design for resilience, it can become a leader in adaptable design.

Big problems, big potential

Bangladesh’s capital and largest city Dhaka, home to 20 million people and one of the fastest growing cities in the world, experiences extreme traffic congestion due to inadequate infrastructure. These traffic conditions have doubled carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 0.2 metric tons per capita in 1994 to 0.4 metric tons per capita in 2010.

Yet, there are few alternatives to private transport, as mismanaged public transport systems, low capacity buses, and poor maintenance add up to make private mobility the only feasible mode of transport. The country’s urban residents are make strides towards cheaper, more sustainable alternatives. Some 24,000 people mount their bicycles each day to negotiate streets clogged up by 890,000 vehicles and 700,000 three-wheeled rickshaws. However, this is often a short-lived hope as people are dissuaded from cycling because without safe infrastructure, leading to 86 deaths per 10,000 people every year.

Sustainable transport, development, and adaptation

The World Bank, with the government of Bangladesh, stated in its second National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction that “an efficient transportation network with adequate coverage synchronized with sustained service delivery is an essential input for development of the economy.” While the government may be committed to building a metro system, construction hasn’t even started. Congestion, traffic crashes, and emissions continue, still.

By 2050, Bangladesh will require approximately US$ 2.4 billion to deal with issues associated with climate change, including weather events, sea level rise, and the displacement of affected populations. Short-term solutions to halt rapid environmental destruction and remove large amounts of CO2 can be enforced through incentives, cycling safety courses, and adding bike infrastructure that provides a mobility alternative to the private car. These steps, while small, are important in building momentum for the more systemic changes that city leaders will need to implement in the long term.

Moving forward for climate resilient cities

Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities must be more ambitious in advancing climate change policy and economic development goals simultaneously. For example, car pool lanes and toll roads can be constructed in congested areas, which would help transport goods more quickly, create a revenue source for further infrastructure improvements, and provide disincentives for private car use.

And while the city’s geographic location in a tornado and hurricane prone region presents added challenges, this just underscores the need for climate resiliency also faced by cities around the world. Unlike developed cities, which have years of auto-centric infrastructure and sprawling urban development to counteract, Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities have the opportunity to pursue resilient and sustainable design strategies from the beginning. These cities can create buildings that can bend in the wind, porous roads that can cope with being under water, and information networks that can track weather patterns and help each individual chart a route to safety.

Climate resilience is a three-pronged paradigm for Bangladesh’s cities to chart a route forward for a prosperous future. The road ahead is clearly not easy, but if they are successful, Bangladeshi cities can stand as remarkable examples for how to build resilience to climate change into urban development.

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.

Going the last mile: Does connectivity influence sustainable transport usage?

Thu, 2014-04-10 20:34

Despite increased investment in mass transport, last-mile connectivity and access to transport hubs remain obstacles for cities across India. Photo by Jack Zalium/Flickr.

Growing numbers of privately owned automobiles, pollution, and congestion have helped governments in cities across India realize the need for better mass transport systems. Cities like Delhi are now making substantial investments to improve existing systems and implement new measures. However, even as Delhi is investing in rail and bus lines, “last mile connectivity” – connecting people from their homes to transport  hubs – remains an area of concern and neglect for the city and the country as a whole. This lack of affordable and safe last-mile connectivity has created a situation in which the poorest, who rely most on mass transport, are the very people that are having the hardest time reaching safe, sustainable, affordable transport options.

Safe, connected transport … for some

In November 2013, the Rapid Metro, India’s first entirely privately funded mass transport venture, began operations in Gurgaon. It attempted to address the issue of last-mile connectivity by connecting commuters from the nearby Delhi Metro to six key places within Gurgaon, including the commercial hub “Cyber City”. However, this being a private venture, it does not meet the needs of all residents. Much of the population who travel daily to Gurgaon from Delhi or nearby regions cannot easily reach the metro because the company only developed infrastructure for those who could afford to use the Cyber City line.

Many of Delhi’s residents opt to use auto-rickshaws for their last-mile commute. However, in some cases the auto-rickshaws are so expensive that they cost more than 50% of the total commute cost. Cheaper options such as the Metro Feeder buses are extremely crowded, in dilapidated condition, and are often unreliable.

As a result, those who cannot afford auto-rickshaws have to walk to get from home to work and back. Walking in India’s exploding cities is difficult, for although most metro rides in India are themselves relatively safe, this changes when users step out of the metro stations. It is almost impossible to walk to and from the metro with no sidewalks, street lights, or pedestrian crossings in the areas surrounding mass transport. Yet, as the World Bank reported, “The urban poor make up a city’s ‘captive walkers,’ but since this group has the least resources, it usually has the smallest political voice.” It is critical in creating a safe and equitable city that all people are able to access high quality, affordable transport.

Those who often most need mass transport are often those who have the hardest time accessing these transport options. Photo by Brinda Sengupta.

Steps towards equitable transport

City leaders in Delhi and Gurgaon have finally realized the importance of efficient and sustainable transport. Now, city governments need to invest in feeder services and ensure accessible pedestrian environments to make the complete commuter experience safe and equitable for all citizens.  A recent survey by New Delhi University’s Department of Urban Planning shows that there is a long way to go, with 65% of current metro users mentioning problems reaching transport, and 40% of private mode users pointing towards last-mile connectivity issues as a large reason for their decision to not use public transport. Yet, at the same time more than 50% of private mode users said that they would be willing to use public transport if given appropriate services to connect to transport lines. It is up to city governments to offer people that chance. Collaboration is needed between transit operators, public organisations, municipal authorities, civil society groups, and the public at large. Ideas and initiatives such as  such as Corporate bus pooling,  creating a Non-Motorized Public Transport Feeder Network, Autorickshaws on call are steps in the right direction. In a city where car ownership is increasing and incomes are rising unequally, finding ways to connect people to affordable transport might be India’s best chance at an equitable future.

Reinventing Chennai’s auto-rickshaws

Mon, 2013-12-23 20:30

An auto-rickshaw carries young passengers in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Chennai’s auto-rickshaw sector has undergone many recent improvements, yet fleet service implementation should be considered as a means to ensure high-quality service for passengers. Photo by Kamakshi Sachidanandam/Flickr.

Chennai – the capital city of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India – recently implemented new fare regulations in its auto-rickshaw sector for the first time since 2007. In 2010, the Tamil Nadu government lifted a freeze on issuing permits, which decreased the permit cost and led to a sudden growth in the supply of auto-rickshaws. Lifting the freeze was a direct response to a shortage in supply that was thought to lead to high fares.

Unfortunately, increasing the number of auto-rickshaws throughout the city did little to combat high prices – exorbitant passenger fares remained the norm because the base fare for a trip was last set in 2007. Since then, fuel prices have risen from 47 Rupees (USD$.76) to over 70 Rupees (USD$1.14) per liter, making auto-rickshaws significantly more expensive to operate. While the September 2013 fare reform has been instrumental to addressing this long-standing issue in Chennai, the city must invest in professional management solutions coupled with strategic and forward-thinking technology advancements to truly achieve high-quality auto-rickshaw service.

Can GPS fare meters restore the reputation of Chennai’s auto-rickshaws?

In addition to regulating permits and a standard fare for auto-rickshaws, Tamil Nadu’s government has established a committee to consider introducing GPS fare meters and printers to auto-rickshaws in Chennai. The GPS meters are intended to serve a two-fold purpose: first, they would standardize auto-rickshaw fares by calculating price based on distance traveled. Second, they would enable the government to monitor auto-rickshaw operations in the city through a central control room.

The three main problems passengers face with auto-rickshaws in Chennai are ride refusals, overcharging, and tampered meters – issues that stem from the unorganized nature of Chennai’s auto-rickshaw sector. Anyone who has ridden in a Chennai auto-rickshaw has probably heard one of the following comments from drivers: “Please give me 20 Rupees on top of the meter fare,” or, “I won’t find a ride where you want to go, so pay me 50 more Rupees.” Whatever technology interventions are chosen by the selection committee must address these hurdles to improve the quality of service for passengers.

Professional management is the key to high-quality auto-rickshaw service

Given the informal organization of Chennai’s auto-rickshaws, promoting professional management of auto-rickshaw services should be the government’s highest priority to achieve high-quality auto-rickshaw service in the city. The implementation of technology solutions and other initiatives like effective monitoring and enforcement should occur within the larger umbrella of promoting a professionally operated auto-rickshaw service in Chennai.

Fleet auto-rickshaw services that are professionally managed through public-private partnerships have been successful in cities like Rajkot and Surat and should be considered an opportunity for Chennai to leverage private sector expertise and efficiencies, while addressing the government’s funding gap. Fleet services can provide benefits such as stronger brand image, improved operational efficiencies, higher quality service for passengers, and increased earnings for drivers. Professionally managed auto-rickshaw systems can also provide better driver training and mitigate practices like refusals, overcharging, and tampering with meters.

There are many different business models for fleet service implementation, including non-profit, cooperative, and for-profit businesses, so it’s important to assess which model is appropriate based on local context. In Chennai, fleet services such as Namma Auto and Auto Raja have already demonstrated that private sector driven initiatives can stimulate better service in the auto-rickshaw sector; the next step is for government policies and regulations to enable these business models to scale-up and expand their impacts to a citywide level.

Recommendations for technology implementation and monitoring

The government’s initiative to integrate technology like GPS meters into auto-rickshaws is a welcome step towards improving Chennai’s auto-rickshaw service. In order to ensure the best results, technology improvements should be implemented within a larger reorganization of the sector into fleet auto-rickshaw services. Through the introduction of fleet services, the cost of installing GPS meters and printers in auto-rickshaws can be borne by private enterprises, without unduly placing the burden on drivers. For example, the government could make installing GPS meters and printers, the minimum qualification for private entities aiming to provide fleet auto-rickshaw services in Chennai.

Tamil Nadu’s government could also subsidize the capital cost of GPS devices with funds available from the federal government, since the recently launched Global Environment Facility-5 (GEF5) under  the Ministry of Urban Development has proposed to make dedicated funding available for cities implementing technology reforms in their auto-rickshaw services.

In a city where auto-rickshaws carry over 1.5 million passengers a day, the role of the auto-rickshaw as an intermediate form of public transport cannot be understated. Appropriate regulation and reform of this sector has the potential to make auto-rickshaws more sustainable and beneficial for passengers, drivers, and the city as a whole.

Rickshaw Rising Challenge: Revolutionizing urban mobility in India

Mon, 2013-11-25 21:11

Auto-rickshaws are a quintessential feature of Indian cities and a crucial form of transport for millions of urban residents. The Rickshaw Rising Challenge seeks innovative ideas from Indian business endeavors that have the potential to revolutionize the country’s auto-rickshaw sector. Photo by Larry Johnson.

Do you have a business solution that has the potential to deliver large-scale improvements in quality of service, access, safety, environmental impact, and livelihoods in India’s auto-rickshaw sector? The Rickshaw Rising Challenge is calling for applications from Indian business endeavors that have the potential to revolutionize the country’s ubiquitous auto-rickshaw sector – a mode of transport that provides mobility to millions of people, but remains largely unorganized. The Challenge, launched on November 15 by EMBARQ India and the Shell Foundation, is the first platform in India to bring entrepreneurs and private enterprise together with the goal of changing the face of urban mobility in the country.

Why Rickshaw Rising?

The Rickshaw Rising Challenge brings visibility to the untapped opportunity for businesses to provide one of the world’s most pressing needs: sustainable mobility in cities, where over half of the world’s population now lives. India’s urban population alone is over 391 million, and on track to grow by an additional 200 million by 2030.

How we move in our cities – in India and elsewhere – impacts everything from health and income to how we work, play, and live, making the present the ideal opportunity for business to transform how we think about transport.

Private enterprise in sustainable transport

The last decade has seen a major shift in businesses’ role in solving some the world’s most complex problems, but urban transport challenges have traditionally been left to the public sector. In India, increasing pressure on urban infrastructure due to rapid population growth and increasing private motorization is driving the need for new solutions in urban mobility.

It is more important than ever to support and engage private sector enterprises that are advancing innovations in sustainable urban mobility. With virtually every country in the world becoming increasingly urbanized, we need solutions that make intermediate, public, and non-motorized modes of transport accessible, affordable, safe, and desirable for all urban residents. Although EMBARQ experts estimate that the current private investment in transport worldwide is about $500 billion, only $179 billion of that is going to developing countries. Further, spending by development institutions on transport is $14 billion total, but only $3 billion on sustainable transport.

India’s auto-rickshaw sector: an opportunity for innovation

Integral to the intermediate public transport (IPT) sector of Indian cities, three-wheeled auto-rickshaws comprise between 10-20% of daily commuting trips. However, the unorganized nature of the sector poses serious challenges, including poor quality of service for passengers, poor safety and environmental performance, and low income for drivers.

EMBARQ India’s comprehensive work in this sector reveals that there are significant opportunities to develop viable business models to organize the sector into fleet services and use innovative technology solutions to improve quality of service, reduce emissions, improve safety, and increase driver earnings. Entrepreneurial initiatives in the auto-rickshaw sector do exist in terms of fleet operationsengine and fuel technologysmartphone applications for user information, and driver training services, but so far these businesses haven’t been able to scale-up – that’s where the Rickshaw Rising Challenge comes in.

Rickshaw Rising Challenge: Helping business help India

The key to enabling business initiatives in sustainable transport to scale and achieve widespread impact is creating an environment that includes early-stage financial, technical, and business support, in addition to pushing for reforms and innovation in government regulation. The partnership between EMBARQ India and the Shell Foundation combines these conditions through the Rickshaw Rising Challenge.

The immediate goal of the Rickshaw Rising Challenge is to support businesses that will transform the auto-rickshaw’s competitiveness as a safe, efficient, and sustainable travel option, as compared to private motorization. The larger goals are for the Challenge to act as a catalyst to jumpstart a movement of entrepreneurs to develop sustainable transport business models, and for the Indian Government to recognize and enable the important role private businesses can play in the urban transport sector. Situated within a broader effort to leverage more funding from the national government and private sector for sustainable urban transport, the Rickshaw Rising Challenge offers a great opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the government, entrepreneurs, and investors to promote in sustainable transport in India.

Interested participants can learn more about the Rickshaw Rising Challenge on its website, and should submit an application before December 20, 2013 for a chance to secure up to US $50,000 of funding and 6-months business support.

Jyot Chadha is a Fellow at EMBARQ India who works to develop strategies for EMBARQ India to engage with entrepreneurs and the private sector. She conceptualized and led the launch of the Rickshaw Rising Challenge, and can be contacted at jchadha@embarqindia.org.

Seatbelts, GPS, and padded seats could help auto-rickshaws go the final mile

Tue, 2013-08-20 01:42

With a few changes, auto-rickshaws could become ideal transport for persons with disabilities trying to connect with public transit. Photo by Pinreader.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) and other bus and rail modes are becoming increasingly accessible for seniors, passengers with disabilities, and others who benefit from universal access. Such passengers include blind or sight-impaired persons; frail seniors, tourists, visitors and others who find it difficult to navigate a transport system; persons with hidden disabilities such as arthritis or heart disease, and of course those using crutches, wheelchairs, and other mobility aids.

But there is a missing link: the final mile. The common option of walking may not work for most passengers with disabilities who cannot navigate between a transit stop and their destination.  You may think the solution lies with taxis, or other expensive solutions, but a majority of disabled persons live on low incomes.  Many cannot afford expensive modes like taxis and may not be able to access buses with high steps.  Fortunately, new thinking and new service models for auto-rickshaws may provide a missing link in many developing countries to put the transport puzzle together for passengers with mobility, sensory, or cognitive concerns.

“Three-wheelers” work as an inexpensive cab alternative

Auto- and cycle- rickshaws and similar vehicles around the world are less expensive than cars.  They are often used in central cities or in outlying neighborhoods in India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Peru and other countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Their incorporation into public transport options for those with disabilities would revolutionize their mobility by lowering fares so that they would be within the reach of additional millions of seniors and disabled persons.

The introduction of dispatch centers by auto or cycle-rickshaw companies solves a critical problem for many disabled persons:  how to hail vehicles that may only ply busy streets several blocks from where they live.  Dispatch centers enable persons with disabilities to ask for a vehicle to be dispatched directly to where they live, which may enhance their ability to access lower-cost public transport. GPS units on smaller vehicles now permit dispatchers to conveniently link riders with nearby drivers.

Accessible physical design and customer service

While auto-rickshaws generally have low floors that facilitate entry, modest design changes may further increase their accessibility.  Such changes could include well-placed hand grasps for all passengers, and some padding to protect passengers from being thrown against hard surfaces in the rough and tumble city traffic. Additionally, some models of auto-rickshaws provide a space behind the passenger cabin so that wheelchair users who can transfer to a passenger seat can store their folded wheelchair.

Training drivers in courtesy and sensitivity to disabled passengers should be included in the training for auto-rickshaw drivers, ensuring that disabled passengers have a comfortable ride in every way.

Buckling up

The introduction of seat belts should also be considered, beginning with vehicle fleets catering to specialized markets.  In cultures where the independent living movement for disabled persons is only a recent trend, disabled people often find they must travel with relatives and friends, sharply circumscribing their ability to get around.  A seat belt might seem exotic in some cultures in such situations, but is already viewed as indispensable in others.   Many disabled persons wanting to free themselves from cultural paternalism will desire the additional option of travelling alone, but may then require a seat belt to provide needed protection from sudden stops and turns. Seat belts could also benefit tourists and visitors who are nervous about the chaos of city traffic.  Parents with infants may want to either secure an infant seat or secure themselves when holding an infant.

This July, I joined Holger Dalkmann of EMBARQ, Michael Replogle of The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and others on a United Nations panel to discuss inclusive transport as a key element in bringing persons with disabilities into the mainstream of economic development.  Auto-rickshaws are finding a place on the agenda.

A study by EMBARQ reported that six Indian cities with a combined population of 45 million were served by some 330,000 auto-rickshaws.  The availability of even a small fraction of such fleets to include those with disabilities would provide a great boost to the use of para-transit services for final mile connectivity, and for short-range trips as well.

Matters are coming full circle, and I welcome readers’ thoughts on the use of auto-rickshaws to enhance the mobility of persons with disabilities around the world.

About the author: Tom Rickert heads up Access Exchange International (AEI), an NGO in San Francisco that has promoted inclusive public transit for seniors and disabled passengers for the past 23 years. He has compiled bus rapid transit (BRT) accessibility guides for the World Bank. Tom is a volunteer guest contributor to TheCityFix. 

Promoting ridesharing for the daily commute in Mumbai

Tue, 2013-05-14 20:35

An auto-rickshaw transports passengers in Gujarat, India. Photo by lecercle.

Recently, the State Government of Maharashtra (the third largest state in India, located on the western side of the country, and home to the cities of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur) began looking into a proposal to run long-distance, point-to-point shared taxi services to improve the quality of daily commutes in Mumbai. The service is seen as a potential solution to overcome the crippling congestion and reduce the alarming air pollution trends that increased motorization has brought to Mumbai’s streets. Sharing daily commutes is being touted as a viable alternative to single-occupancy (or chauffeured) drive-to-work for many Mumbaikars. It’s success, though, might reside in it being offered as a quality service, as opposed to merely a transport solution.

Commuters: ridesharing potential extends beyond short-distance trips

Ridesharing has become popular the world over, and in Mumbai and other Indian cities, shared auto-rickshaws and taxis are common feeder services to suburban railway stations, central business districts, and tourist locations. Such services depend greatly on strong and regular demand for taxis or auto-rickshaws and have traditionally operated out of assigned shared-taxi/rickshaw stands. A central feature of the shared services is that they ferry commuters only for short distances, with the fare split equally between the number of commuters (for auto-rickshaw, usually 3, and for taxi, 4). In comparison, the proposed shared-taxi service will aim to cover long distances, ferrying commuters from major residential areas to dense central business districts in Mumbai (Bandra-Kurla Complex, SEEPZ and Lower Parel to name a few).

Currently, there are a few innovative services that facilitate ridesharing in Indian cities – most of them provide technological tools to facilitate the development of ridesharing networks, rather than the building of a specialized fleet of shared taxis. For example, SmartMumbaikar is a technology-based startup that enables social connections between registered users having similar commute patterns (origin-destination points, time of commute). Other services like SharedCab, Zinghopper, and Khali Seat offer ridesharing with Facebook-verified user accounts, to help assuage safety concerns of sharing rides with strangers. SharedCab, based in Mumbai, makes use of air-conditioned fleet taxis to offer a comfortable and high-quality service to those willing to share rides, whereas the other services encourage commuters to make their own taxi sharing arrangements.

Local governments: scaling up shared taxi service and meeting demand with regulatory consistency

In Mumbai, regulations relating to operating shared transport services range from ambiguous, and thus open to interpretation, to strict prohibitive of shared-taxis operating as regular for-hire taxis during off-peak hours. One of the key challenges to scaling up point-to-point, shared-taxi services in Mumbai comes in the form of delineating regulatory barriers and consistency. Another key challenge cited during EMBARQ India’s consultations with entrepreneurs was the uncertainty in organizing demand for the service. There is little assurance that a waiting shared-taxi will collect 4 passengers all at once; often the passengers will have to wait, and their schedules or willingness to wait may not allow it, thereby affecting the demand for the service. An efficient way of managing demand and making supply of shared taxis available will be crucial to the feasibility of such a service.

Success in managing supply and demand creates key demand areas for such a service among new audiences, such as corporate employers that have major offices in Mumbai central business districts. These firms have a large number of employees traveling from different parts of the city to their offices, and some even offer fixed or variable travel allowances, depending on the mode of travel. For example, some companies will offer allowances for parking and fuel for private vehicles, whereas others will provide reimbursements for travel by the local train or bus service.

Companies: employers play a key role in commuter choices

Employers play a key role in travel choice – depending on the incentives provided to their employees, they can encourage ridesharing or taking public transport to work, by simply discontinuing travel allowances for private vehicles. Furthermore, by connecting with ridesharing services, they can ensure an efficient and timely commute for their employees, possibly even helping to save the environment from harmful excessive emissions from increased motorization.

For point-to-point, long-distance shared taxi service to successfully operate in Mumbai, several issues need to be addressed. These present themselves from the point of almost every stakeholder:

  • Existing operators and taxi fleet companies who have an opportunity to contribute to reducing congestion and bringing about a sustainable change in the way Mumbai moves;
  • Passengers who may not be willing to wait to take a shared-taxi or who benefits from driving alone to work;
  • Local government, which needs to clarify regulations pertaining to operating ridesharing services, and how it may be in the best interest of Mumbai’s commuting masses; and
  • Corporate employers who have similar potential to alter their employees’ travel patterns, potentially helping worker productivity as well.

Taking this stakeholder dynamic into consideration will be important to the successful implementation of long-distance ridesharing as a commuter option in Mumbai. After all, a happy employee is one that travels to work comfortably!

Rickshaw-Taxi Online Discussion Group – A Summary of Discussions

Wed, 2013-05-01 17:13

Intermediate public transport services such as auto-rickshaws are an important part of sustainable urban transport in India. Photo by Roy Sinai.

This blog post is part of the Catalyzing New Mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

Intermediate public transport (IPT) services, such as auto-rickshaws and taxis are an important part of sustainable urban transport in India. Over the past few years, EMBARQ India has undertaken several activities to promote IPT services in Indian cities. These activities can be broadly categorized into research and publications; city-level demonstration projects; policy reforms; capacity building; and knowledge-sharing and information exchange. As part of the knowledge-sharing and information exchange activities, EMBARQ India created an online discussion forum in April 2012, titled the Rickshaw Taxi Discussion Group. Its aims is to bring together a diverse group of professionals, in India as well as internationally, who are interested in sharing ideas, asking questions, and debating a wide range of issues affecting auto-rickshaw and taxi services, such as policy and regulation, economics and finance, entrepreneurship, technology applications, environmental impacts, vehicle design, and road safety.

Over the course of the past year, the group has grown to comprise more than 100 members from various backgrounds, including government, civil society, academicians and researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, industry associations, and major manufacturers. On its one-year anniversary, we briefly highlight some of the key discussions that have ensued in the group and some ideas on the way forward to enable the group to achieve its intended objectives.

The group members have discussed and deliberated on a range of topics, primarily in the areas of policy and regulation, and entrepreneurship. These are briefly discussed below.

Policy and regulation

Fare policy

Fare policy for auto-rickshaws was one of the most important topics of discussion, reflecting both the importance of this aspect in the regulation of auto-rickshaw services, as well as the need for many cities across India to address current challenges regarding auto-rickshaw fares. The discussions focused primarily on the fare policy work of the Hakim Committee (a one-man committee set-up by the state government of Maharashtra to devise auto-rickshaw and taxi fare policy for Mumbai and other cities in the state), addressing what other cities in India learn from this initiative. These discussions led to insights on key input factors (costs and operating characteristics) to be considered for fare-setting, formulas for fare estimation, and the need for undertaking fare revisions on a regular basis to reflect changes in input costs. The importance of stakeholder engagement, as well as public outreach, was also emphasized as a critical component in the fare policy reform effort.

Permit policy

Current policies on auto-rickshaw permits in cities and their impacts on driver economics and quality of service for passengers were also discussed. These discussions led to the following insights:

  • Closed permit policies in cities, where there is a regulatory cap on the number of permits, often lead to permit trading and a significant increase in permit costs, which impact driver economics. Closed permit policies also typically lead to an under-supply of service — a major reason for the poor quality of service for passengers (characteristic of a seller’s market).
  • Cities need to rethink their current permit policy frameworks, so that issues such as under-supply, high permit costs, and lack of transparency in permit ownership, can be addressed for the overall improvement of the sector.

Entrepreneurship

The auto-rickshaw sector in India is witnessing significant entrepreneurial activity, with many innovative services and socially-focused businesses emerging in many cities, aiming to address the current challenges facing the sector while providing enhanced quality of service for passengers. Many of these entrepreneurs have joined the group and have used the platform to share ideas, and ask questions related to finance opportunities and current regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship in the sector. Following are some key insights from these discussions:

  • There have been many initiatives across cities aiming to organize the currently unorganized auto-rickshaw sector into fleet-based services. The group discussions have enabled expert insights, as well as peer-to-peer learning, between initiatives in different cities, in subject areas such as regulatory barriers, which need to be eliminated to promote such initiatives, and avenues for access to finance for entrepreneurs to scale-up their businesses.
  • Innovations in the area of electric auto-rickshaws and taxis were discussed, with insights on the factors that could make electric vehicles a viable option in the future (such as economics and favorable government policies), while addressing some of the complexities of large-scale deployment of electric vehicle fleet, including charging infrastructure, charging time, as well as after-sales support and maintenance of fleet.
  • The discussions also shed light on some of the other areas of entrepreneurial activity in the sector, including smartphone applications for hailing auto-rickshaws and taxis; technology applications for vehicle and fare tracking; and ride-sharing services (i.e. carpooling and cab-pooling).

The way forward

The Rickshaw Taxi Discussion Group serves as a useful platform to bring together a diverse group of professionals (both organizationally and geographically), who are interested in sharing thoughts, ideas and insights on auto-rickshaw and taxi services. These discussions are enabling the members to learn about case studies from different cities in India (as well as internationally), assess regulatory implications, appreciate the innovations taking place in the sector, and identify the role of various industry stakeholders (such as regulators, civil society, and the private sector) to promote reforms. The discussions have made it clear that there are many challenges facing the sector in Indian cities, but the opportunities for reforms are significant, which would provide benefits for drivers, passengers, and cities as a whole. The group, through its discussions, hopes to serve as an important knowledge exchange platform, to help bring auto-rickshaw and taxi issues in the spotlight.

If you are interested in joining the group, please write to Akshay Mani, Project Manager for Urban Transport at EMBARQ India, at amani@embarqindia.org. We look forward to your participation.

Read the full report here

A Safety Assessment of Auto-rickshaws in Mumbai

Mon, 2013-01-21 17:20

Auto-rickshaws in Mumbai

This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

 

Continuing the discussion on road safety in Mumbai city, EMBARQ India recently analysed data about road accident fatalities and serious injuries obtained from the Mumbai Traffic Police (and the Traffic Training Institute, Byculla). With the report in its final stages, this blog post will serve as a summary of major findings, starting with an overview of the safety problem in Mumbai, and going into specific issues on the safety of auto-rickshaws in Mumbai. A final comment on location-specific concerns for road safety is also included, to highlight areas where road fatalities are concentrated.

The methodology focused on practical aspects of understanding the scale of the road safety challenges in Mumbai through records of fatalities and seriously injured persons for the time period of 2008 to 2011. An overview of the data showed that the total number of fatalities has been steadily on the rise since 2004, and has largely fluctuated over the course of the past decade (from 534 in 2004 to 651 in 2007, to 637 in 2010 and 404 as of Oct 2012). Some of the key implications of the above motorization trends in Mumbai which are explored in the study, with respect to auto-rickshaw safety issues, include:

  • The impact of auto-rickshaws on the safety of road users, relative to the impacts caused by other motorized modes (primarily, the growing cars and two-wheelers)
  • The impact that growing motorization (driven by cars and two-wheelers) is having, if any, on the safety of auto-rickshaw occupants.

To provide context for the relative comparison of motorized modes of transport, Passenger Kilometres Travelled (PKT) data was employed in line with a previous study (Mani et. al, 2012). The analysis reiterated the position of auto-rickshaws as a lower contributor to fatalities than motorcycles and cars. Their (normalized) share in total fatalities for 2011 stood at 7.42% (28 persons killed), compared to 34.4% for cars (130 fatalities), 29.7% for motorcycles (112 fatalities). Buses contributed the highest to normalized PKT shares (48%), and 24.6% to fatalities (93 fatalities) in 2011. These statistics are further supplemented by data tables that show auto-rickshaws do not contribute the highest to fatalities. The chart below illustrates the above point:

PKT Analysis Chart

 

The study also provides evidence for the claim that pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle occupants (drivers/pillion) are the most vulnerable to road accidents leading to death. From 2011 data, of 563 fatalities, 323 were pedestrian fatalities (a whopping 57% share in total) and 176 were motorcycle occupants (31.2% of total). In light of these findings, there were only 14 auto-rickshaw occupant fatalities. Similar PKT analysis for occupant fatalities showed that cars, taxis, auto-rickshaws and buses had less than PKT-representative share in occupant fatalities (indicating that they are less vulnerable as road users). Motorcycles, however recorded the greatest vulnerability among these motorized passenger modes of travel. Auto-rickshaws, while safer than motorcycles, were found to be at greater risk of road accident fatalities relative to taxis and cars. It is speculated that this is due to poor safety features in vehicle design, slower moving speeds, and sharing space with faster and heavier moving motorized means of transport among other factors. These trends are illustrated in the form of the below pie diagram.

Road Accident Fatalities

 

Finally, the location-wise analysis showed key areas requiring dedicated safety reform in Mumbai. While there was separate data available on accident-prone zones in Mumbai, this analysis showed that areas like Vakola (119 fatalities in the last 5 years), Goregaon East (87) and Nehru Nagar (80) were potential concern areas. Overall, police stations along the Eastern or Western Express Highway reported a high number of fatalities, indicating proximity to fast-moving roadways to be a possible reason.  More specific data would greatly improve the context of this analysis, potentially even helping to find if there were accident-prone areas specifically for auto-rickshaws.

Area-wise Fatalities

 

This speaks volumes on several aspects of road safety in Mumbai, and about the safety of auto-rickshaws. Since auto-rickshaws are allowed to ply only in the suburban areas of Mumbai city, this may significantly impact their exposure to road safety risks. Furthermore, contribution to fatalities may often not be solely due to the vehicle and/or its driver – there may be defective road design features or weather conditions that have also had a part to play in road accident fatalities. Greater depth in data, along with efficient means of extraction will greatly aid the cause of better analysis and understanding of the safety problem (as mentioned before).

In closing, it is important to note that auto-rickshaws were neither major contributor to fatalities, nor were their occupants at the most risk. While this may not paint a complete picture of the problem, it does offer some evidence to previously intuitive dialogues. The idea is to enable safety reform for auto-rickshaws and other vulnerable road users (like pedestrians and motorcycle users) at the soonest. This can be best done through effective road design, better incentives for drivers, and optimizing vehicle design to ensure safety of all passengers.

How Am I Driving? A Dialogue on Auto-Rickshaw Drivers in India

Tue, 2012-12-04 23:44
The ubiquitous three-wheeler holds national consciousness, where little is known about their drivers. Photo by Akshay Mahajan   This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation  

As India’s urban areas grow their transport networks, issues concerning the role of auto-rickshaws  and their drivers (known as auto-wallahs) are coming to the fore.  While several studies document the total share of auto-rickshaw accidents in all road accidents in India, none isolate the auto-rickshaw driver’s point of view, and few analyze auto-wallahs themselves. The auto-wallah’s perception of road safety may very well be key to overall safety on India’s urban roadways. The viewpoints of stakeholders and potential victims of road accidents, such as the auto-wallahs, can help us understand how subjective assessments of safety can play a role in road safety at large.

Consider the auto-rickshaws in Mumbai, where perennially congested roads and low speeds mean that auto-rickshaws are less likely to cause any serious accidents among pedestrians or two-wheelers relative to larger, faster moving vehicles such as buses or cars.  This lowered risk of serious accidents has little to do with the driving habits of the auto-wallahs, as their small vehicles allow them the flexibility of fitting into the nooks and crannies between four wheelers and buses and allow them to flout traffic regulations in other ways.

This begs the question, “What does lead to risky driving behavior on the part of drivers?” Factors could include overconfidence in driving skill, the driver’s ownership of his vehicle, or poor traffic safety enforcement.  However, these factors are not well studied. Most of this information can only be obtained via driver surveys on safety, surveys which have not been performed in previous studies.

From gleaned insight into the mentality of auto-wallahs, the presence of a health or medical insurance scheme for the driver may have a significant impact on driving behavior, linked with more responsible and safer driving habits. Furthermore, the current fare system does not adequately account for  the opportunity costs of so called “idle time”, or time in between fares, leading the driver to either choose to avoid routes or fares with dense traffic or to drive at a greater speed, putting himself, the passenger and pedestrians at greater risk of road accidents.

Two other, more practical ways to improve driving habits are through driver education about road safety and through helping them understand the role of their service in the urban transportation system at large. This might impress upon them the importance of the service they provide, as well as the need for safe driving practices that are sustainable and beneficial to both the driver as well as the passenger.

While these thought experiments suggest a few ways of overcoming rash and negligent driving, until studies are conducted to understand the perspective of the auto-rickshaw drivers and real world solutions are put in place, there will continue to be increased risk of serious road accidents in congested city roads. By understanding the role of the auto-rickshaw drivers and their safety perceptions, we can only complement the holistic view of a safe, efficient urban transportation system.

 

New Release: Review of Literature in India’s Urban Auto-Rickshaw Sector

Mon, 2012-10-08 10:37

Auto-rickshaws are an important part of the urban transport landscape in India

 

Increased urbanization has brought with it a significant rise in the demand for transport, as well as an increase in the use of private vehicles in Indian cities. Auto-rickshaws are an important part of the urban transport landscape in India, filling a critical gap between private and public transport. However, the sector faces many challenges in the area of permits, fares, emissions, safety, technology, and socio-economic viability.

With the objective of understanding the existing state of the auto-rickshaw sector, summarizing key issues, and highlighting gaps in the current literature, EMBARQ India has launched a publication, “Review of Literature in India’s Urban Auto-Rickshaw Sector – A Synthesis of Findings”. The authors, Akshay Mani and Pallavi Pant, reviewed a wide range of literature sources, including research and conference papers, reports, case studies, white papers, industry statistics, and news articles, streamlining the review process to focus on the following key aspects of the auto-rickshaw sector:

  • Policy and regulation:  Reviewing current policies and regulations in the areas of permits, fares, emissions, and safety.
  • Market characteristics:  Reviewing market size, vehicle production and sales trends, major manufacturers, engine technology, and fuel characteristics.
  • Emissions:  Reviewing emissions-related challenges in the sector
  • Socio-economic and operational characteristics: Reviewing socio-economic issues such as driver profiles – age and educational qualification; and the economics and operational issues of the auto-rickshaw sector such as average daily kilometres, average number of trips, and empty kilometres travelled.
  • Safety: Reviewing the safety aspects of auto-rickshaws, looking at the safety impacts on vulnerable road users, as well as the safety of auto-rickshaw occupants.

Along with the findings of the review, the study also presents recommendations, and it is envisioned that these findings and recommendations will inform future reform efforts undertaken at the national, state and local levels to promote auto-rickshaws as a key sustainable transport mode in Indian cities.

This is EMBARQ’s second publication on India’s auto-rickshaw sector. Earlier this year, to highlight the important role the auto-rickshaw industry plays in urban transport, the World Resources Institute and EMBARQ India released a comprehensive report, “Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-rickshaw Sector,” written by Akshay Mani, Madhav Pai and Rishi Aggarwal. This report examines the role the auto-rickshaw sector can play in promoting sustainable urban transport in India, and develops a policy vision for this sector, presenting recommendations on reforms to address sustainability challenges.

 

E-Tricycles Coming to the Streets of the Philippines

Wed, 2012-08-08 18:30

Tricycles are a common means of transportation in the Philippines and a major contributor to air pollution. Photo by Lisa and Alec via Flickr.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), along with the Philippine Department of Energy, has begun implementing a plan to introduce as many as 100,000 electric tricycles to the streets of the Philippines by 2020. Tricycles, smoke-belching and inexpensive three-wheeled vehicles found across the Philippine islands, are one of the country’s biggest sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Replacing even a portion of the country’s estimated 3.5 million tricycles with electric alternatives is expected to significantly improve urban air quality and cut down on carbon emissions. An effective electric tricycle could also offer a cleaner alternative to similar modes of transportation in other countries, such as tuk-tuks in Thailand or auto-rickshaws in India.

As a first step, a pilot program of 20 e-tricycles has been operating for the past year in parts of Metro Manila, the vast urban area that includes the national capital. Metro Manila suffers from some of the poorest air quality in the country, with clean air regulations frequently ignored even by enforcement officials. According to the World Bank, as many as 5,000 premature deaths among Metro Manila residents are linked to air pollution, with costs to the city as high as $19 million per year.

The success of the Metro Manila pilot program is a promising start to the project. Drivers have found that e-trike batteries can be charged for $1, as opposed to $6-$8 to fill a gas tank. While the vehicles cost more up front than traditional tricycles, they cost less to operate and have lower maintenance costs. The batteries themselves are a dependable, well-established technology—the same lithium ion batteries used in laptops and cell phones.

ADB and the Philippine government are searching for a manufacturer for the 100,000 units that will be rolled out over the next few years. The vehicles will be manufactured within the Philippines, creating badly needed jobs and a new industry that will put the country on track to a more sustainable transit future.

See the video below for an introduction to e-trikes in Manila:

Q&A with Padmasree Harish: Easy Auto Service

Tue, 2012-08-07 18:30

A typical Bengaluru (Bangalore) rickshaw. Photo by Roy Sinai.

This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation

Easy Auto is a fleet auto-rickshaw service that provides pre-paid and dial-an-auto-rickshaw service in Patna, the capital of the Indian state of Bihar. Established in 2007, Easy Auto is one of the early pioneers of the dial-an-auto-rickshaw concept in India, providing benefits to drivers and enhancing quality of service for passengers. Here, we sit down with Ms. Padmasree H. Sundaram, managing director of Easy Auto, to learn more about the service, its future growth plans, and what other cities can learn from it to improve the quality of urban transport services.

What was the driving force behind starting this service?

We realized that there is a gap in demand and supply between the passengers and available auto-rickshaws. It was our vision to bridge the gap by providing a communication platform between the passenger and driver to find the nearest auto-rickshaw.

How is this service unique or different from other services in the auto-rickshaw sector in Indian cities?

Auto-rickshaw services in most cities are unorganized in nature, where individual drivers compete against each other for the market. Our service is unique in organizing existing services into a fleet, which operates under a common brand and under stringent performance standards. We provide pre-paid and dial-a-rickshaw services under this brand, and also provide benefits to drivers, such as training and uniforms.

How did you deal with the regulatory environment with regard to permits, when initiating your service?  

When the proposal for Easy Auto service was approved by the government, we worked with the regulatory environment in framing a government order for starting this service, which detailed the modalities for the operator.

What kind of support did you receive from the local and/or state governments?

Our experience in Bengaluru was vastly different from our experience in Patna. In Bengaluru, the bureaucracy wanted to work with us and was very supportive. But, the underlying political environment controlled by the auto-rickshaw unions limited the facilities that could be provided to us. In Patna, the bureaucracy did not have any problems in creating a conducive environment for launch of services.

We now run the reserved auto-rickshaw services from our pre-paid booths and also service dial-an-auto-rickshaw requirements. We have also proposed to the government that we will provide solutions for the shared auto-rickshaw services so that we can organize them and make the drivers accountable.

What are some of the key benefits that have resulted for passengers from your service?

In Patna, we have been able to give service to customers at reasonable rates. We have been able to create a difference to the passenger by ensuring standardization in rates and service, apart from being able to ensure that we offer a safe ride.

How has the situation improved for drivers from Easy Auto service?

For the driver, we have been able to increase earnings by providing them parking in passenger catchment areas. We have also been able to give them branding by introducing uniforms, which was not there in Patna earlier.

How do you ensure environmental performance of auto-rickshaws in your service?

There are absolutely no empty runs (runs without passengers) on any of our vehicles. This eliminates excess emissions from empty or dead kilometers. We are also giving training to drivers to ensure timely inspection and maintenance of their vehicles, which enhances environmental performance and life of vehicles.

What are your plans for future growth?  What do you think are the avenues available for financing this growth?

Financing is the largest challenge that we have been facing on the growth. We are working on this and hope to crack a solution in the near future. In Bengaluru, we have applied to the government for permission to launch our own fleet of vehicles. In Patna, we are planning to increase the number of counters so that we can cover more of the city from points that are closer to the need. We are also planning to organize the shared auto-rickshaw system that is existing in Patna to make it more accountable.

What are some of the key challenges that you are facing that need to be addressed by regulatory and other stakeholders working in this sector?

Implementing such a service in large cities like Bengaluru has been challenging. Regulatory issues, such as the stringent rules in the permit system, and the institutional environment, such as the grip of unions in the market, are the biggest challenges that service providers are facing currently. It is therefore important that there is a larger debate on the benefits of such services and solutions to address challenges.

What can other cities in India learn from your initiative to improve the quality of urban transport services? 

My take on this would be that our experiment in Patna and the G-Auto service in Gujarat need to be taken as examples of successful implementation, and the regulatory bodies in larger cities need to look at our efforts in other markets without belittling them as mere coincidences. In Bengaluru, the attitude has been that we will look at a successful model in Singapore, but we will not look at what we have to learn from Ahmedabad or Patna.

Smartphone Apps Ease Auto-Rickshaw Rides in Mumbai

Wed, 2012-07-25 02:28

The A-Rix Meter app calculates the distance and fare for an auto-rickshaw ride. Photo by A-Rix Meter.

This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

In a city as large as Mumbai—with a population of more than 12 million people—transportation can be a challenge. While residents have a number of options in the form of buses, trains, taxis and auto-rickshaws, that doesn’t always translate to an easy commute. Buses and trains are overcrowded, and outdated mechanical meters make it hard for passengers to know whether they will get the right fare on a taxi or auto-rickshaw. Drivers have to refer to a constantly updated fare chart, meters are often tampered with, and fare charts are often fabricated. While Mumbai is in the process of rolling out electronic meters across the city, a number of “smart technology” entrepreneurship initiatives (as we’ve discussed in a previous post) have popped up in the auto-rickshaw sector to fill the gap in public knowledge about fare calculations.

In preparation for a comprehensive case study on the auto-rickshaw industry in Mumbai, EMBARQ India sat down with a number of the entrepreneurs involved in these efforts to get their take on the challenges in the sector and what motivated them to create their businesses.

The chart below showcases some of the transit apps and their features:


Date established Current # of users Fare meter GPS Calculate distance Pre-programmed fares for different cities Panic button Ridesharing Driver rating Cost Tuk-Tuk Meter 2 Aug 2011 60,000 x x x x free A-Rix Meter Feb 2012 500 x x x x Rs. 54.51 Suruk Aug 2010 40,000 x x x x x x free Mumbai Auto June 2010 80,000 x x free Smartmumbaiker April 2012 Invite-only x free M-Indicator May 2010 2,500,000 x x x free

 

Features: Locations, Fares and Timetables

According to the app creators, the universal catalyst was to make it easier for passengers to correctly calculate fares without having to rely on the (often unreliable) mechanical meters and fare charts. This is an effort to give the passenger some measure of power and not be at the will of the driver. Several app creators also highlighted the difficulty of traveling to a new city and being unfamiliar with its fare rules. These apps give passengers the correct fare, as well as ensure that they are not being taken on a roundabout route. Many use GPS technology to measure the distance of the auto-rickshaw ride and pre-loaded fare rates for cities to calculate the correct fare.

The creators of Suruk went a step further than creating a tool for fare calculation, after a survey of auto-rickshaw users found that passengers’ main concern after tampered meters was safety. For that reason, the Suruk app incorporates a “panic button” so that users can alert an emergency contact with their location if in trouble. The app also allows users to rate drivers based on their registration numbers.

Mumbai Auto launched the day after a fare change in Mumbai that made the mechanical meters more complicated to read. The creators wanted a quick and easy solution, so users can just punch in the meter reading and instantly get the corresponding price.

M-Indicator is a one-stop shop for transit information in Mumbai. On the app, the user can access train and bus timetables and routes, as well as taxi and auto-rickshaw fares. They even include movie showtimes.

User Feedback

Most app creators have received enthusiastic feedback about their products. Tuk-Tuk Meter‘s creator said that lots of drivers have contacted the company and are excited to learn the actual distance they have traveled. The creator of Mumbai Auto and SmartMumbaikar mentioned that a few drivers have even downloaded their app to help calculate fares.

On the flip side, users of A-Rix Meter have mentioned that drivers are unhappy when they are shown how inaccurate their meter is. Overall, the apps have helped many people save time and money. They also can help users orient themselves in a new city. Simply, these apps were ahead of government action on a crucial problem: passengers not knowing the correct fare for their rickshaw ride.

It is important to note that these apps are only available on smartphones, which the majority of Mumbaikars (including drivers) don’t own. While users number in the tens of thousands, Mumbai is a city of more than 12 million. Large scale usage of these apps is not a practical solution to the problem and a more widespread fix is necessary.

Future Plans

There has already been a noticeable increase in electronic meters—or “e-meters”—in Mumbai and they are expected to be universal within a year. Each auto-rickshaw permit holder is required to install an electronic meter in their vehicle at their next annual fitness test. These meters show the distance, waiting time and actual fare to be paid. It will remain to be seen whether the replacement of mechanical meters will eliminate the need for these helpful apps in Mumbai. However, they will still be essential in cities across India where regulations regarding fares and meters differ. In addition, while the new e-meters are more difficult to tamper with, it may take some time for passengers to get accustomed to the accuracy of the new meters. These apps will continue providing users with a way to double-check the fares until they trust the e-meter’s reliability. Beyond that, most of the app creators also have ideas to expand their businesses along related paths. One thing is certain: these entrepreneurs won’t stop creating further innovations to improve the user experience and their ideas are applicable across cities in India and around the world.

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