Urban transport in India, the world’s second-most populous country, has wide-ranging effects on local public health and safety, as well as on the global environment.

The number of auto-rickshaws in Indian cities has doubled between 2003 and 2010, offering significant opportunities to promote more sustainable transport. In a move to reduce pollution, improve road safety, and boost service, in July 2012, the city of Rajkot in Gujarat launched India’s first organized fleet service for auto-rickshaws.

EMBARQ India helped design and implement the pioneering fleet service, which sets a precedent for other cities seeking to provide sustainable public transport choices for India’s soaring urban population.

Reforming Rickshaws, Promoting Sustainable Transport

Auto-rickshaws are used for 10-20 percent of daily motorized road trips in India’s urban centers. Fleets range from 30,000 vehicles in medium-sized cities such as Rajkot (population 3.8 million) to 150,000 vehicles in Mumbai. While they provide a crucial form of intermediate public transport—especially for low-income residents—auto-rickshaws raise health and safety concerns. Their two-stroke engines are a major source of PM10 (soot) emissions, and poor design and maintenance can threaten passenger safety. Traditional lack of management of the sector creates additional problems, including informal fares and empty trips that generate unnecessary pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Rajkot’s solution was to launch G-Auto – India’s first city-supported, privately operated fleet auto-rickshaw service. Managed by the city government in partnership with Nirmal Foundation, a charitable trust, G-Auto launched with 100 vehicles and will expand significantly over time.

Benefits for passengers include reliable, meter-based services; trained drivers; dial-in, doorstep pickup services; and dependable auto-rickshaw presence at bus terminals, railway stations, and the airport. In terms of broader sustainable transportation policy, G-Auto promotes the use of public transport and reduced reliance on private motor vehicles.

Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role

EMBARQ India was a key partner in designing and implementing Rajkot’s organized auto-rickshaw fleet. In April 2011, EMBARQ India signed an MOU with the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) to help the city implement the sector reforms.

Based on our service-model concept, RMC invited bids to run the fleet service. EMBARQ India then drew up the pioneering partnership agreement and helped organize the service launch.

EMBARQ India is continuing to monitor the service and provide technical support. There is great demand to replicate the Rajkot model in other Indian cities. In August 2012, the city of Surat led the way, launching a pilot rickshaw fleet of 35 vehicles, with aspirations for significant scale-up.