A Surprisingly Simple Solution To A Transportation Mess In India

Electric rickshaws have become an economic and environmental lifeline for both drivers and passengers.


Published:

Electric rickshaws in New Town, outside Kolkata.

© Anuradha Sengupta

It is about 6 p.m. in New Town, a satellite township of Kolkata, India. As the daylight dims, streetlights flicker on. Chintu Mondal has parked his blue-and-red electric rickshaw near a new, swanky glass-and-steel building. Very soon, the offices inside will disgorge hundreds of employees looking for rides home. Taxis here are hard to come by. Buses are few and, at this time, crowded. The price for an app-based cab, like Uber, surges in the evening.

New Town is an information technology hub about 12 miles from bustling Kolkata, and every evening—sometimes late at night—workers 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. Previously, he held odd jobs as a daily wage laborer, carpenter, and sometimes as an istiriwala (literally translates to “ironing man”) ironing people’s clothing for the U.S. equivalent of 7 to 16 cents apiece.

His family and many others like them lost their farmland when the new township was established in the late 1990s. Most of the drivers saved money or took out loans to buy their vehicles.

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.

Like most big cities in India, Kolkata is experiencing rising levels of air pollution. The World Health Organization reports that 10 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, and the country is projected to grow by 300 million new urban residents by 2050. Also, rising incomes have led to an increase in personal cars, and India is now set to become the world’s fourth-largest market in domestic car sales. To accommodate this growth, India will need to invest in climate-friendly cities. Reliable, affordable, and sustainable transportation will be essential.

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.

Surveys have shown that the changes have led to higher incomes for operators. “Not only do the livelihoods improve, but manufacturing the modernized rickshaw in India will open new green job opportunities,” Gadepalli says.

Buses are the most common mode for some of the most vulnerable sections of Indian society. However, apart from a few major cities, such as Kolkata and Chennai, Indian bus systems are in poor shape. Last year, Delhi scrapped its Bus Rapid Transit system because of congestion on the corridor, mechanical issues, and lawsuits that pushed for access to bus lanes in a crowded city.

The poor do most of the cycling and walking, the most sustainable methods of commuting. And, perhaps because this segment of the population is less influential, there has been a marked absence of designated lanes for cyclists. Kolkata, in particular, has banned bicycle lanes on many of its roads.

Meanwhile, rising incomes and increased use of mobile phones have driven app-based cab services that critics argue are consolidating control of transportation infrastructure. Smaller players and local taxi services have been pushed out of the market, and drivers who moved to app platforms have often found themselves working in poor conditions.

In March, about 40,000 drivers affiliated with Ola and Uber went on a daylong strike in Mumbai to protest dwindling incentives and arbitrary fines. In February, Praveen Kumar, unable to pay for his taxi’s loan, became the first Uber driver in India to commit suicide.

Despite the opposition, ride-shares are on the rise. Worldwide, India has seen the largest growth of Android taxi app installs, according to the 2015 report by App Annie, which provides industry analytics. For a country that has long considered car ownership a status symbol, consumers are surprisingly open to sharing.

For the majority in India, however, owning a car is still a distant reality, and rideshare apps are unlikely to reduce urban congestion or pollution drastically. This is where the e-rickshaws have picked up the slack. What is still needed, though, is an alternative to lead acid batteries, including their charging capabilities. Already, a few companies are making solar-powered e-rickshaws that are cheaper than automobiles.

All the government needs to do is enable microloans, Mondal says. He has opened a street stall where his wife sells snacks. They are now saving for their daughter’s education. “I am less stressed out because my daughter and wife feel more settled,” he says.

Anuradha Sengupta wrote this article for Just Transition, the Fall 2017 issue of YES! Magazine. Anuradha is a journalist based in India whose work focuses on the environment, indigenous food, and sustainable living. She is a member of an urban ecological group that creates awareness about sustainable living and helps small farmers sell organic produce in cities. Anuradha founded Jalebi Ink, an award-winning media collective for children and youth. Her media portfolio includes working as senior editor with two newspapers, a documentary on the prevalence of spurious medicines, reportage from Kuwait after the Gulf War, and a citizens’ media project in Afghanistan.

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
World's First Self-Charging, Folding Electric Bike Never Runs Out Of Juice
Why Aren’t Auto Manufacturers Producing Electric Cars?

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 20, 2019

This is a powerful day. The Sun enters Aquarius during the early morning hours while the nearly Full Moon chugs along through her own sign of Cancer. Venus is at odds with Neptune, setting the stage for tonight’s Supermoon lunar eclipse. While the Sun…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Join acupuncturist and eastern medicine specialist Linda Davis to: 1) Learn and practice a simple method to access your pendulum’s divination powers; 2) experience various types of...

Cost: $20–$25

Where:
Portal Crystal Gallery
489 Massachusetts Ave
Arlington, MA  02474
View map »


Telephone: 781-859-5373
Website »

More information

Once used as a diagnostic tool for physicians, the palms and hands give us insight into physical health and emotional well-being. Learning to decipher the differences in hands and the meanings...

Cost: $250

Where:
The Soul Purpose
1225 Gar Highway
Swansea, MA  02777
View map »


Sponsor: The Soul Purpose
Telephone: 774-264-1329
Contact Name: Jessica Kozak
Website »

More information

Celebrating the new year, the new you!  Come detox, relax and get your new year readings while you recharge in our sanctuary! We have a fun line up of readers and healers providing...

Cost: $60- 3 Service package special; $25 - single service

Where:
Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Road
Suite A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Did you know that forgiveness heals? It can reduce depression, ease anxiety, increase our well-being, and facilitate the body's natural healing response. Many of us may get the concept of...

Cost: $60

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

The most powerful things in the universe are invisible. Energy which is the most powerful of physical and spiritual forces is invisible. The most precious and important things that matter in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA  02138
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

MBSR: Mindful Based Stress Reduction Mindfulness, as taught in the MBSR program, is recognized worldwide as the gold standard in mindfulness training and is one of the greatest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Life Care PT
38 Southwest Cutoff
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: The Center for Resilient Living
Telephone: 508-556-7022
Contact Name: Ginny Wholley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using...

Cost: $30 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen B. Howell
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Listen as Lauren channels messages from loved ones to prove you are never alone. An intimate event with tested and endorsed research medium.  Visit website for tickets. Doors open at 6:30...

Cost: $50

Where:
The Spiritual Path with Lauren Bortolami
129 N. Main Street
Mansfield, MA  02048
View map »


Sponsor: Lauren Bortolami Robbins
Telephone: 508-339-8111
Contact Name: Lauren Robbins
Website »

More information

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Women Rising Together—Women’s Workshop This workshop is designed for women who are facing a challenge and would like to come together with other spiritually minded women to explore...

Cost: $25

Where:
Apple Tree Arts
1 Grafton Common
Grafton, MA  01519
View map »


Contact Name: Christine Johnson

More information

Intuitive medium Laura Wooster is honored to present this evening of spirit messages from your loved ones on the other side. She will deliver evidential messages of love, hope, and comfort from...

Cost: $25

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Instructor: Stacey Piwinski Adult Level Spend half a winter’s day working with warm, cozy, and colorful yarn! Each participant will learn to weave their own circular weaving, starting...

Cost: $65

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

Start this intensive January 26 This is an excellent series for those who are on a healing journey of any sort, as we access the Akashic field of energy to clear your path and...

Cost: $860 or three payments of $366

Where:
, MA


Telephone: (978) 835-0005
Contact Name: Nancy

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags