The summit addressed whether entrepreneur-driven organised fleet auto-rickshaw services could be the way forward for the sector.
10th February 2012, Mumbai: EMBARQ India organised and hosted Rickshaw Rising: An Auto-Rickshaw Entrepreneurship Summit with entrepreneurs, civil society members, investor representatives, government officials, driver union representatives, and other key stakeholders, including manufacturers and engine & fuel technology providers from around the country. The summit was a platform that facilitated discussion on the challenges, opportunities and the way forward to promote entrepreneurship in the auto-rickshaw sector in Indian cities. The summit addressed whether entrepreneur-driven organised fleet auto-rickshaw services could be the way forward in addressing the challenges, and promoting this sector as an integral part of the urban transport system in India.
Entrepreneurship initiatives from other cities – G-Auto, a service that organises more than 10,000 auto-rickshaws in Ahmedabad, Baroda and Gandhinagar in Gujarat; Easy Auto, a Bangalore and Patna-based fleet auto-rickshaw service; Three Wheels United, Bangalore, a company set up to organise auto-rickshaw drivers, and make auto-rickshaws cleaner and more fuel efficient; and Radio Tuk Tuk, a service that provides door-to-door commuting solutions in Gurgaon – shared their experiences in setting up and running organised fleet auto-rickshaw services, and the financial, regulatory, and institutional challenges they faced while operating services in a competitive market.
Low incomes, compounded by debt and other expenses result in auto-rickshaw drivers resorting to meter-tampering, refusals, over-charging and other behaviour that enrages passengers, creating a negative image of the sector among the general public. The entrepreneurs talked about how organising drivers under a credible brand addresses these challenges, brings additional benefits to drivers, and improves quality of service for passengers. They also highlighted the environmental benefits achieved through improvements in vehicles and operational efficiencies.
At a panel and Q&A session, participants were given an opportunity to ask the entrepreneurs questions on various aspects of the functioning of such initiatives. Some of the key issues that were highlighted in this session include:
• Financial: A key challenge faced by the auto-rickshaw sector is stringent banking policies that prevent loans. Through innovative mechanisms entrepreneurs will work towards resolving this issue.
• Regulatory: Given the current scenario for obtaining permits which could pose a barrier for new fleet companies, there is a need to set in place an appropriate regulatory framework for the entry of fleet auto-rickshaw companies.
• Institutional: The role of the driver unions vis-à-vis the entrepreneurship initiatives was discussed, and the way forward for unions and entrepreneurs to work together to promote fleet auto-rickshaw services.
In the post-lunch session, entrepreneurs shared their experiences in running fleet services with other modes like taxis and cycle-rickshaws. Navdeep Asija, founder of Fazilka Ecocabs, the world’s first dial-a-rickshaw scheme that operates a network of cycle-rickshaws in Fazilka, Punjab; and Revathi Roy, founder of VIIRA which operates a fleet of women taxi drivers in Mumbai, with plans to extend operations to include auto-rickshaw services, presented their business models and key learnings. Susan Zielinski from SMART, University of Michigan, Ann Arbour, brought the international perspective and shared ideas on global technology implementation, peer-learning and knowledge sharing opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs in India.
In the final session of the summit, a panel discussion with Raj Cherubal of Chennai City Connect (civil society perspective), Anuradha Bhavnani of Shell Foundation (investor perspective), Bharat Kalaskar, Deputy Regional Transport Officer, Mumbai (government perspective), Frederick D’sa of Mumbai Rickshawmen’s Union (union perspective), and Neeraj Gupta, Managing Director, MERU Cabs (entrepreneur perspective). The discussion focussed on the relevance of social entrepreneurship initiatives in the auto-rickshaw sector; policy changes that address key issues faced by drivers and entrepreneurs like bank loans and directives on fuel usage and several other design and technology related factors that concern this sector.
The summit had several key take-aways, including increasing livelihood opportunities and benefits for auto-rickshaw drivers, improving vehicle designs to ensure safety, comfort and fuel efficiency, affecting policy changes that would tackle core problem areas such as permits for fleets, and developing a positive brand image of the auto-rickshaw sector among the general public, placing auto-rickshaws as an essential mode in the integrated transport framework of Indian cities.
Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-Rickshaw Sector, co-authored by Akshay Mani, Madhav Pai and Rishi Aggarwal was officially launched at the summit. This report addresses how the auto rickshaw sector can play a key role in improving sustainability for urban transport, and addresses negative perceptions of rickshaws. It also introduces new models of regulation and reforms that can be adopted for a more efficient and safer system and enable auto-rickshaws to have an optimal role in the transport mix.
Going ahead, EMBARQ India will create a national knowledge exchange group and support efforts around the country in implementing entrepreneur-driven fleet auto-rickshaw services in cities.
This event was part of the Catalyzing New Mobility Program and received support from The Rockefeller Foundation.