Cycle rickshaws, an eco-friendly mode of transport, continue to play a role in para-transit and non-motorized modes of transport in Indian cities. The world's first dial-a-rickshaw service, Ecocabs, was initiated in Fazilka, Punjab in 2008 by Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka, an NGO dedicated to education, employment, environment and energy. The concept was successful, and it has now been taken to 21 other cities in the state of Punjab.
According to estimates, nearly 60 lakh (6 million) people travel on cycle rickshaws in Punjab every day. The Ecocabs scheme has been instrumental in employment generation, becoming a source of livelihood for about 3 lakh (300,000) families and reducing use of fossil fuels. In 2011, Fazilka Ecocabs won the National Award for Excellence in Non-Motor Transport from the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. The project has also received international attention and was one of the 15 finalists for the SMART Mobility Enterprize.
The key to the cycle rickshaw—or ecocab—operations has been the improvement of the existing rickshaw design, along with the introduction of a hub-and-spoke model of operations. In Fazilka, ninecall centers have been strategically spread around the town, and each of these serve an average of 1,500 households. The cycle rickshaws are ergonomically designed and are offered at a very affordable price. The service is usually available between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. The scheme functions very similar to the dial-a-cab service and all rickshaw pullers, also known as traction men, have been provided with cell phones.
The new rickshaws, including models called Femto and Nano, designed with ergonomic principles, are lightweight, low-floor and carry extra luggage and advertisement space. Additional revenue can be generated for the traction men with the use of the advertising space. A similar practice has been adopted for auto-rickshaws in several other cities.
There are a total of 500 members of the project in Fazilka. All traction men receive several benefits, including free health checkups, accidental insurance for 50,000 INR (US$918), and access to credit financing schemes of leading banks, among others. They are also provided with work uniforms and have to follow a code of conduct, which, if broken, can lead to the confiscation of their rickshaw license. The project helped increase the latent demand for cycle rickshaws and has contributed towards improved well-being of rickshaw pullers and their families.
The ecocab services are operationally efficient and include benefits for the rickshaw pullers, users and society at large. With the success of the scheme and national-level recognition of it, several other cities, including Delhi and Jaipur, are considering implementing a similar dial-a-rickshaw system. In addition, the idea also finds mention in the country's 12th Five-Year Plan, under the low carbon mobility agenda.
Read all about the history of cycle rickshaws in the virtual rickshaw museum.