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Sustainable Urban Transport in India

Role of the Auto-rickshaw Sector

This paper examines the role the auto-rickshaw sector can play in promoting sustainable urban transport in India. It develops a policy vision for this sector and presents recommendations on reforms to address sustainability challenges.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Study Objective and Approach

As the demand for urban transport increases in India, so too does the popularity of the autorickshaw. Production of this type of motorized three-wheeler has doubled between 2003 and 2010. In major Indian cities, it is responsible for a significant share of motorized trips. Strategies to improve urban transport must include a policy vision for this increasingly important sector. To that end, this paper examines the role the auto-rickshaw sector can play in promoting sustainable urban transport in India. It develops a policy vision for this sector and presents recommendations on reforms to address sustainability challenges.

The Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework, one of the key approaches to promote sustainable urban transport, is the basis of this study. The ASI framework is based on three key strategies: (1) avoid unnecessary trips, (2) shift to more sustainable transport modes, and (3) improve performance in all modes (Dalkmann and Brannigan 2007). In assessing the role of the auto-rickshaw sector in promoting sustainable urban transport, this paper looks specifically at how auto-rickshaws can contribute to Shift and Improve strategies, using a two-pronged approach:

  • Examination of the role of the type of service (contract carriage) provided by auto-rickshaws in promoting sustainable urban transport, as part of the Shift strategy;
  • Assessment of the need for improvements in the type of vehicle (motorized three-wheeler) in the auto-rickshaw sector to promote sustainable urban transport, as part of the Improve strategy.

Role of Auto-rickshaw Sector

Role of the Type of Service (Contract Carriage)

The findings from this study indicate that auto-rickshaw services in cities can help meet the objectives of the Shift strategy—of promoting public transport and reducing private motorization—based on the following aspects:

  • First and last mile connectivity to public transport: Auto-rickshaw services, integrated as a feeder mode providing such connectivity, can complement public transport systems by ensuring that all parts of the city have easy access to public transport stations.

  • Door-to-door transport alternative to private motor vehicles: The door-to-door on-demand service provided by auto-rickshaws will ensure that transport needs requiring door-to-door connectivity, such as occasional trips to the airport or emergency trips for health care, can be met in cities without having to rely on private motor vehicles.

Vehicle Performance and Need for Improvements

This paper assesses the performance of the motorized three-wheeler (auto-rickshaw) in Indian cities with respect to two important sustainability parameters—emissions and road safety—to identify current challenges and areas for vehicle-related reforms that can improve performance:

  • Emissions: A key challenge in the autorickshaw sector is its emissions of particulate matter of aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 microns (PM10). PM10 are known to have adverse impacts on health, and the conventional two-stroke engine auto-rickshaws prevalent in many cities are major sources of these emissions (Shah and Iyer 2004).
  • Road Safety: The paper looks at the impact of the auto-rickshaw sector on the safety of both city pedestrians and the rickshaws’ occupants (driver and passengers). Research conducted by EMBARQ India using pedestrian fatality data for Mumbai and Bangalore shows that autorickshaws lead to fewer fatal pedestrian accidents than do motorized two-wheelers and cars. This is likely a result of their lower speeds and lighter weights (Mohan and Roy 2003). There are concerns for the safety of auto-rickshaw occupants, however, particularly in multivehicle collisions (ones between auto-rickshaws and other motor vehicles). A study of auto-rickshaw injury patterns in Hyderabad revealed that multivehicle collisions were the leading cause of injury for auto-rickshaw occupants (Schmucker et al. 2009).

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