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Reinventing the rickshaw in India

According to reports, a decade ago, there existed an estimated two million cycle-rickshaws in India. Collectively, they provided service to a considerable number of people, totting up six to eight billion passenger kilometres, according to a paper in Current Science (2002). It should be interesting to see how many of those rickshaws survive, and whether there can be a renaissance of this eco-friendly set of wheels.

A modern version of the cyclerickshaw is a tourist attraction even in Paris, the fashion capital of the world. Here, it is more expensive to hire than taxis and promises a different view of the city – from the confines of a slow-moving vehicle rollling along the Champs-Elysees and the Place de la Concorde, where much history – including the execution of rulers, aristocrats and fallen revolutionaries – was made during the French Revolution.

Curiously, a similar modern rickshaw was doing the rounds in Chennai in 2011 with the police and Exnora International highlighting its importance as an eco-friendly, safe, climate-friendly travel option. A year later, this eco cycle-rickshaw was being described in the media as a potential tourist attraction on the Marina, besides performing a mainstream mobility function. Strangely, it has not been very visible since.

What does matter is that cycle-rickshaws can make a comeback if they are of modern design. That would reduce the stress on the person riding it (the operator). Also, they are silent, have none of the problems of the autorickshaws (noise, fuel commitments, meter fixing or major up-front investment) making it a viable occupational choice for the unskilled. It can be a good feeder to suburban rail stations and perhaps even the upcoming Metro stations – essentially returning to its roots. Incidentally, the Union Ministry of Urban Development continues to list cycle-rickshaws as an established mode of transport in most metros.

In May this year, a Rajya Sabha member was told in reply to a question by the Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, that there was no plan to run quadricycles, battery powered or solar powered vehicles by the Ministry. It has to be something different.

Quite simply, these rickshaws are a relaxing way to enjoy city sights, in Chennai or Paris. With more support, they could help us with our last mile travel.

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