A surprisingly simple solution to a transportation mess in India
New Town is an information technology hub about 12 miles from bustling Kolkata, and every evening sometimes late at nightworkers with backpacks and laptops look for rides to get back home to the city. In this new township of high-rises, apartment complexes, malls, and IT complexes, electric rickshaws have become an economic and environmental lifeline.
In the past four years, the number of e-rickshaws has mushroomed in suburban and rural Bengal, where public transport networks are not as dense as they are in the city. Mondal, 42, has been driving one in New Town for almost three years.
Mondal says he enjoys driving an e-rickshaw. His day starts at 5 a.m. and lasts until about 11 p.m., with a break for food. The route is fixed and short less than 2 miles and close to the neighborhood where he lives. “I earn more than I used to, and it is less of an effort,” he says.
One vehicle seats four passengers, and he charges about 16 cents a ride. The money he earns covers household expenses. The battery takes about eight hours to charge at home, where voltage often fluctuates, and lasts a whole day. He says his electricity bill typically runs as much as one-sixth his monthly income.
For drivers like Mondal, the e-rickshaw provides a livelihood. For a fast-growing India, the vehicles are helping to improve quality of life.
The e-rickshaw has become the poster child of India’s drive to meet these goals. Autohaus, a Chinese commercial vehicle manufacturing company, announced that it will invest more than $13 billion in West Bengal to manufacture them; app-based cab companies such as Ola have added them in small towns and cities; a premier vehicle manufacturing company, Kinetic, has rolled out an electric three-wheeler in Delhi; and women are getting started in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. The Delhi government has funded “smart” e-rickshaws equipped with GPS and cameras. Now, female drivers, trained in traffic rules, road safety, and martial arts, are getting a foothold.
Investment in new e-rickshaws has also spurred a comeback for its predecessor, the cycle rickshaw. The Indian government recently announced a mobility program that includes funding for non-motorized transportation and the expansion of local connectivity in 103 cities.
A new government-funded lightweight e-rickshaw allows drivers to run more trips, carry more passengers, and add to their earnings. The idea was not to make a complex high-tech product that was inaccessible to most, but instead to design a simple and efficient cycle rickshaw, says Shreya Gadepalli, South Asia director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. In Delhi, about 85 percent of the 700,000 rickshaws on the street are based on this model.
Source: Yes Magazine
Photograph: © Unsplash