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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 for-hire vehicles, 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 auto-rickshaws, 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 auto-rickshaws 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 auto-rickshaw 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 auto-rickshaws. 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.

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.

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. Hear more from Arvind at the Transforming Transportation 2015 conference (#TTDC15), where he’ll speak on innovation and entrepreneurship in urban mobility for Indian cities. 

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.

Don’t forget to tune in to Transforming Transportation 2015 (#TTDC15) to learn more about advancements and innovations in urban mobility for India. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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