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

Policy Vision

The National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) of the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, is the key guiding policy at the national level focusing on urban transport in India (MoUD 2006). With the underlying rationale of people-based transport planning, the NUTP framework focuses on planning and investments in public transport and nonmotorized transport (NMT) systems in cities.

To meet the objectives of the NUTP, the findings from this study highlight the need for an overarching policy vision for the auto-rickshaw sector in urban transport (Figure E.1) based on the Shift and Improve strategies of the ASI framework to promote sustainable urban transport.

Reform Needs and Next Steps

In accordance with the policy vision, the following regulatory and vehicle-related reforms will help ensure that the auto-rickshaw sector supports public transport and provides alternatives to private vehicles, while addressing the sustainability challenges of emissions and road safety:

  • Ensure Availability of Dispatch Services: Auto-rickshaw services in the majority of Indian cities are provided by individual owner-operators rather than by fleet companies. The lack of organization makes it difficult to provide dispatch (dial-a-rickshaw) services. This needs to be addressed through regulatory reforms that enable fleet-based operations with dispatch services to enter the auto-rickshaw sector.
    • These regulatory reforms should be pursued by State transport departments, which are the nodal regulatory agencies for the auto-rickshaw sector.
  • Reduce Emissions: Findings from this study highlight that improvements in engine technology (moving from two-stroke to four-stroke engines) is potentially the best approach to reduce PM10 emissions from the auto-rickshaw sector. Four-stroke engines have lower PM10, hydrocarbon (HC), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than two-stroke engines (Shah and Iyer 2004). Further, four-stroke engines can reduce PM10 emissions by running on compressed natural gas (CNG) and other alternatives to gasoline (Reynolds, Grieshop and Kandlikar, 2011). However, higher oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from four-stroke engines need to be addressed through reforms in current emission standards.

    • The engine and fuel-related reforms should be pursued by State transport departments as the nodal regulatory agencies.
    • The needed reforms in emission standards are the adoption of separate emission standards for HC and NOx emissions, instead of the current combined (HC + NOx) standard. These reforms should be pursued by the Standing Committee on Implementation of Emissions Legislation set up by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) for emissions legislation (SIAM 2011b).
  • Improve Road Safety: Vehicle design improvements such as seat belts and padding on stiff surfaces (Schmucker et al. 2009) have been noted as key reform needs to improve occupant safety in multivehicle collisions. Further, infrastructure interventions such as dedicated lanes for auto-rickshaws, narrow lanes, and speed tables on urban roads to reduce average speeds will reduce the risk of occurrence of multivehicle collisions.

    • Vehicle design improvements, through reforms in current motor vehicle safety regulations, should be pursued by the Automotive Industry Standards Committee (AISC) (SIAM 2011b) set up by MoRTH for motor vehicle safety regulations.
    • Infrastructure interventions to improve autorickshaw occupant safety should be pursued by City governments as part of their citywide road safety enhancement strategies.

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).