Upgrade to the new cycle rickshaw. It is lighter, faster, bright green (in colour and benefits), has safety belts, low-floor footboard, FM radio and also the day’s newspaper.
And this fancy rickshaw ride is just a phone call away. Radio cabs have been around for long, but now Ecocabs—a new initiative by an urban mobility expert Navdeep Asija—will provide dial-a-cycle-rickshaw service in Chandigarh.
Ecocabs seek to draw on the existing unorganised network of cycle rickshaws, which are the most preferred mode of short-distance travel in most cities across the country. The phone numbers of Ecocabs rickshaw pullers are available on the Ecocabs website (www.chandigarh.ecocabs.org) and there is an Android app available as well (Chandigarh ECOCABS on Google Play Store).
“Rickshaws are the most eco-friendly and economical mode of transport and in a world beset by environment degradation and pollution, they provide much-needed respite,” says Navdeep Asija, founder president of Ecocabs.
Asija says around 25,000 rickshaws transport close to 5 lakh people in Chandigarh itself, thereby saving 75,000 litres of fuel.
The Ecocab rick is no ordinary cycle rickshaw. It doesn’t use any wood and is made of hollow steel pipes, unlike conventional cycle rickshaws. Since it weighs only 65-70kg, (the traditional models weigh 90-95kg) it is easier to negotiate for the rickshaw operator as well.
And then there are the fancy add-ons. Apart from an FM radio, each rickshaw has tourist information booklets and also a newspaper. The rickshaws have been designed keeping in mind the safety and comfort of the passengers and the rickshaw pullers, says Asija, who is also pursuing a PhD in transport systems from Delhi University.
Asija also pioneered Rickshaw Tourism in Patiala through his Patiala Green Cabs in association with Punjab Tourism. Under this model, rickshaw operators are trained as tourist guides who also escort tourists to popular spots in the city. Asija plans to replicate this model in Chandigarh as well.
“Non-motorized transport such as rickshaws have a great role to play in urban mobility, especially in a city like Chandigarh. We would welcome and support even more advancements in the rickshaw technology, such as solar-powered rickshaws and electric rickshaws,” says K K Sharma, adviser to the Chandigarh Administration.
Asija started a dial-a-rickshaw service in Fazilka using traditional cycle rickshaws in 2008. “I hit upon the idea back in June 2008. My mother had to go to the market one day, but there was no one at home to take her out,” he says.
“So she cancelled the plan. In the evening, when I got home she asked me to get her the phone number of some local rickshaw puller so that she can step out whenever she wants to. And I thought dial-a-rickshaw service would be a fantastic idea and a boon for all mothers who were dependent on other family members for mobility,” says Asija.
The young entrepreneur, who has a degree in transport engineering, then did a basic survey and found Fazilka already had a network of formal and informal rickshaw stands. He then decided to connect them via phone and a network of call centres.
A similar survey was conducted when he started Ecocabs in Chandigarh. “I divided Fazilka into five zones mainly north south, east, west and central. Then with the proposal, I met the founder and patron of our organisation Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka. He like my idea and decided to take it up further,” says Asija.
In 2011, Graduates Welfare Association, Fazilka, received the National Award for Excellence in Urban Transport for improving urban mobility in the town through the dial-a-rickshaw service.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo motu cognizance of the scheme and ordered its implementation across the region.
At present the scheme has been successfully initiated in 22 cities of Punjab with the help of district administration and local NGOs.
There are 9 Ecocab call centers in Fazilka where a user can call for a rickshaw. Each rickshaw puller is equipped with a mobile phone for direct calling facility and the bookings can also be made through its Android phone app.
In Chandigarh—where Ecocabs was launched on June 25, 2013—however, there are no call centers. Mobile numbers of rickshaw pullers sector-wise (Chandigarh is divided into sectors) have been uploaded on the Ecocabs website.
Close to 60 lakh people travel by cycle rickshaws in Punjab. The ubiquitous cycle rickshaw is the source of livelihood for some 3 lakh families in the state. The Ecocabs project is also one of the biggest employment generating and environment project in the city.