The world over, the humble auto-rickshaw goes by many names. Tuk-tuk, samosa, trishaw, rick, lapa, tricycle, mototaxi and baby taxi are just some of the names. The much derided three-wheeled monster, is a mode of transportation that most of us don’t want to use, but can’t do without. But the truth is that they play a very important role in the present, and will continue to do so, in the future of public transport.
Auto-rickshaws- More a blessing than a bane:
According to a research report ‘Sustainable urban transport in India- Role of the auto-rickshaw’ published by EMBARQ India in 2012, auto-rickshaws constitute only 2-11 per cent of the total number of motor vehicles, but they account for up to 20 per cent of all passengers ferried. They also play an important role in nudging commuters to use public transport, by providing the much needed connect, between their homes and locations where public transport can be accessed. So, while it’s a pain to deal with individual auto drivers, the collective contribution of auto-rickshaw drivers is critical for the efficient functioning of the public transport system.
According to EMBARQ data, the market size of auto-rickshaws in cities varies from 15,000 to 30,000 in tier II cities (population between 1 and 4 million) to more than 50,000 in tier I cities (population greater than 4 million). The auto-rickshaw sector provides employment to an estimated 5 million drivers in India.
Understanding the problem:
Mckinsey & Company estimates that the population of Indian cities will grow from an estimated 340 million in 2008 to 590 million by 2030. With an already creaking mass transit system and roads clogged with vehicles, auto-rickshaws will continue to play a key role in easing congestion. But the problem is that there isn’t enough good research around the auto-rickshaw industry and investment to support innovation.
That may about to change slowly.
Rickshaw Rising Challenge:
The recently launched ‘Rickshaw Rising Challenge’ launched by EMBARQ India and Shell Foundation is on the lookout for innovative ideas that will change the future of auto-rickshaws in India. “If you look at health and education today it is open, but it was regulated earlier, social entrepreneurs are busy changing that currently. We need to start that in sustainable transport too. Transport impacts everything: time, income and quality of life. There’s a lack of funding in the public transport ecosystem because it’s a highly regulated area, so most entrepreneurs are cautious to enter. Madhav (director, EMBARQ India) and me have been talking about sparking a movement by supporting and funding entrepreneurs. We decided to start in the auto space,” says Jyot Chadha, fellow with EMBARQ and lead for the Rickshaw Rising Challenge.
The challenge, which began on November 15th seeks applications that improves the quality of service, access, safety, environment, and livelihood of drivers. Two entrepreneurs who have their ideas selected will collect a purse worth up to $50,000 and business support for six months support from EMBARQ India and Shell Foundation.
“In addition to the award, entrepreneurs receive business support where we will facilitate links to regulatory authorities and the government. EMBARQ has a good relationship with most state governments and they are open because they realize that large scale change can’t be done by the government alone,” adds Chadha.
Background of EMBARQ and its intervention in India:
EMBARQ started as a World Resource Institute (WRI) program, and was founded in 2002 to make sustainable transport a reality. They have a presence in India, China, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey and the Andean region. In India EMBARQ has been around since 2005 and has so far been involved in research and policy work related to public transport.
“We have been working at the policy level and demonstrating projects. For example at Indore, we helped with to conceptualize BRT (bus rapid transit system), and bringing it out in Indore. We have also taken government officials on field trips to South America to look at some projects,” remarks Chadha.
For EMBARQ and its team, the auto challenge is a deep dive, but the bigger idea is to support entrepreneurs who are innovating in the public transportation space and build a platform for them. The support extended could be a mix of access to early-stage funding, business support and linking them to influencers in the government machinery. Chadha says that in 2014, EMBARQ will seek to build awareness and acceptance about public transport, and stoke new conversations around public transport and sustainability.
The challenge closes on December 20th. Entrepreneurs can apply here.