The auto rickshaw may be losing its way in the transport debate in India, but the ubiquitous three-wheeler is being discussed in global forums as a possible option for sustainable transport.
While autos lose out to cars in the Indian consciousness, but when it comes to sustainable urbanisation and transport, they are being touted as a vital last-mile link of giant mass transportation system, something that needs to be encouraged.
But before the auto rickshaw can take its rightful place in the sustainable transport model, it will have to incorporate some changes. For starters, changes are needed in the design of the auto rickshaw engine to bring down emission, and improved mechanism to ensure safety of the passengers.
The number of three-wheeler motorised vehicles being manufactured has doubled between 2003 and 2010, indicating its growing popularity. Given this, experts suggest that strategies to improve urban transport must take the three-wheeler into account.
A study, ‘Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto Rickshaw Sector’ by EMBARQ India, and published by the World Resources Institute, stresses on the importance of the keeping the auto rickshaw in mind while framing sustainable urban transport policies.
With up to 20% of the personal daily trips in urban areas being made by auto rickshaws, experts suggest policy changes to help strengthen the use of auto rickshaw services as feeder services to public transport. “Across India, auto rickshaws make more than 229 million passenger trips per day. That 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). Strategies to improve urban transport must include a policy vision for this increasingly important sector,” the report says.
Bindu Lohani, vice president of ADB for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, talks about the need for a transformational change in the way transport planners work. “Transportation should be about moving people and goods.” Lohani explains why different modes of public transport must be seen as part of the whole system, each complimenting and feeding each other.
The auto rickshaw fits in with this aim, as it can be integrated as a feeder service by ensuring that all parts of a city have easy access to public transport stations and hubs. In that sense, the auto rickshaw becomes the crucial link. One part of sustainable urban transport system is to work out ways to promote public transport and reduce the use of private vehicles. The door-to-door on-demand service can be met without depending on private vehicles.
However, efforts have to be made on reducing emission of particulate matter. Currently, auto rickshaws have two-stroke engines, which are major contributors of PM10 emissions. It has been suggested that structural changes be made in autos to use a four-stroke engine.