In 2009, when Nirmal Kumar first started G-Auto, a dial-a-rickshaw service, little did he know that it would grow into a hugely successful entrepreneurship initiative spanning four cities in just three short years. After Ahmedabad, Baroda and Gandhi Nagar, G-Auto is now poised to commence operations in the city of Rajkot, in partnership with the Rajkot Municipal Corporation.
Starting off small as a social project under the Nirmal Foundation, he sold the idea to 1,000 drivers in Ahmedabad and gradually got several more on board. Today, in the cities of Ahmedabad, Baroda and Gandhi Nagar, G-Auto has 10,000 rickshaw drivers and several thousand happy customers. Although the idea isn't revolutionary, it has dramatically changed the rickshaw landscape, connecting passengers to rickshaw drivers, offering honest, safe and reliable para-transit services.
Nirmal Kumar's G-Auto has been shortlisted for the SMART Mobility Enterprize ("MobiPrize") award conceived and developed by the University of Michigan SMART initiative and its local and international partners, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation. The award seeks to honor entrepreneurial ventures that are changing the world—helping to improve quality of life and revitalize the environment and economy—through sustainable transportation, or "new mobility."
Another entry shortlisted for the award is Navdeep Asija's Fazilka EcoCabs, set up in 2008 with the mission to organize and improve the existing cycle-rickshaw operations in the town of Fazilka, Punjab. Using modern management tools and real-time technology, this dial-a-rickshaw service promotes an environmentally friendly and sustainable para-transit mode of public transport, as an alternative to car-centric development.
This system can be used as a feeder to mass rapid transit and achieve low-carbon mobility. Navdeep started off with 500 cycle-rickshaw "pilots," as he likes to call the drivers, and launched the world's first dial-a-rickshaw service with cycle-rickshaws using five call centers. The project uses an advanced mobile phone-based intelligence system that connects users to rickshaws, building on the core commitment of EcoCabs, which is accessibility and quality of service.
The town of Fazilka is divided into zones, each with a unique three-digit code that becomes the last three digits of the call center number that users from a particular zone need to ring to book a rickshaw. EcoCabs also has a downloadable Android app, an interactive web portal, advanced database management systems and user information guides to aid ease of access for users.
EcoCabs and G-Auto strive to benefit not only passengers but also drivers, ensuring social and financial inclusion, making them responsible and socially aware. A range of benefits are available to the rickshaw drivers, including training, health care, insurance, legal aid, educational allowance for their children, and a unifying brand image of an organized fleet operation that assures safety and reliability for users.
Entrepreneurs Navdeep Asija and Nirmal Kumar are competing with each other and 13 others for the SMART Mobility Enterprize award. Here are the other shortlisted entries:
- Bicycle Empowerment Centre
- Caronetas Caronas Inteligentes
- CityRyde Zagster
- Hangzhou Omnipay Co. Ltd.
- Ride Amigos Corp.
- Rising Phesant Farms
- Roadify Inc.
- SandVault Group Global Solutions Corp.
- Tuk Tuk Factory
Click here to vote for the top three projects of your choice. The three grand prizes include a $5,000 cash award, a trip to Rio +20 in June 2012 to receive the prize, and dedicated time with expert entrepreneurial mentors.