Indian policy-makers have not yet fully recognised the role of the auto rickshaw sector for the development of sustainable public transport system in the country, a recent study published by EMBARQ India on ‘Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-Rickshaw Sector' states.

The report, published by the World Resources Institute, shows that not only do auto-rickshaws provide an alternative to cars, but they also facilitate the use of public transportation and are a growing option for sustainable transport.

EMBARQ says that in our cities up to 20 per cent of the personal daily trips are made by auto rickshaws, and that there should be policy modifications to facilitate the role of auto rickshaw services as the feeder services to public transport.“Across India, auto rickshaws make more than 229 million passenger trips per day. That number is expected to more than double to 482 million by 2031. The range runs from 15,000 to 30,000 vehicles in medium-sized cities (population between 1 and 4 million) to more than 50,000 in large cities (population greater than 4 million),” the report says.

It highlights the need for regulatory reforms to promote dispatch services and vehicle-related reforms to address emissions and road safety. “Given the current urban transport trends and challenges, such as rising emissions and road fatalities, there is a critical need to promote more sustainable transport options in India. Implementing the recommended reforms – such as the promotion of fleet-based dispatch services and vehicle improvements – will be key to ensure that auto-rickshaws can serve as an effective alternative to private motor vehicles,” Akshay Mani, Project Manager, Urban Transport, EMBARQ India, says.

“A fleet management act will help extract efficiencies of the auto rickshaw sector, just like it did for the taxi system in Mumbai,” co-author of the report Madhav Pai says. Vikram, an auto rickshaw driver in Mumbai couldn't agree more. “If a service like Meru comes up, which provides for all the costs, it will be very beneficial for drivers like us,” he says. Vikram hails from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and lives in the city with his family.

He rues that the auto rickshaw drivers have no protection and are exploited by the police.

“It will be good if we get government support, if gas prices reduce. I earn Rs 500 a day, but I have to pay nearly half of it to the auto rickshaw owner. It is barely hand-to-mouth existence for me. After I spend on food, there is no money left at the end of the day.”

Production of auto rickshaws in India has doubled between 2003 and 2010. The authors of the report feel that while the auto market is growing substantially, the government is turning its face in the opposite direction. “Strategies to improve urban transport must include a policy vision for this increasingly important sector,” the authors say.

Auto rickshaws running on two-stroke engines are a major contributor to PM10 emissions (high concentration of particulate matter less than 10 microns), which is a key public health issue in many Indian cities. The report suggests that there should be structural changes in the auto including the use of a four-stroke engine.

On the safety aspect, the report observes, “Contrary to popular belief, auto-rickshaws are the second safest motorized mode of travel (after buses) for pedestrians, in terms of contribution to fatalities, in both Mumbai and Bangalore.” It zeroes in on vehicle design improvements such as seat belts and padding on stiff surfaces as key reform needs to improve occupant safety in multi-vehicle collisions.

Infrastructure interventions such as dedicated lanes for auto-rickshaws, narrow lanes, and speed tables on urban roads to reduce average speeds to reduce the risk of occurrence of multi-vehicle collisions are also suggested.

“The ability to make door-to-door (long-distance) trips is a clear benefit of private motor vehicles. Therefore, strategies to mitigate private motorization growth in cities have to ensure that door-to-door motorized transport alternatives are available,” the report says.

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