Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fazilka Dial-a-rickshaw project on MIT radar

Chandigarh Fazilka, ::
the newly-created district of Punjab, is making news on the international front. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in US is studying its eco cab project, where a rickshaw arrives at your doorstep soon after you call up a call centre. Their objective: To see how the new experiment can help civic bodies offset the traditional car-centric development patterns that have handicapped many cities — from Beijing to Bangalore.

The project, titled "Future of Urban Mobility", has been given to MIT by the Singapore government to study solutions in regard to sustainable urban transport. What has excited MIT about the dial-a-rickshaw project in Fazilka is how intelligence systems (cellphone network) can be used with existing transportation modes to benefit townships.

To study the project in detail, Albert Ching — a research assistant in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT — recently visited Fazilka. His specific mandate was to study the eco cab project in the township.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Ching said preliminary study has revealed that intelligence infrastructure (mobile telephony) in India has developed much ahead of transport infrastructure. "India has more than 700 million cellphones versus about 13 million cars. After visiting Fazilka, I learnt fully how their project works. They have five call centres — one for each sub-zone. You dial the call centre in your area and within five to ten minutes, the rickshaw puller reaches you," said Ching.

The aspiring urban innovator said this is almost a revolution in terms of urban transport. "It takes care of multiple issues like traffic congestion, air pollution, parking, road safety, etc," he said. With the efforts of Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka (GWAF) — a local NGO — and the local administration, Fazilka now has car-free zones and pedestrian areas.

Ching was told to study the Fazilka project by P Christopher Zegras, associate professor in Transportation and Urban Planning at MIT. "The Fazilka experiment seems to offer an important demonstration of merging advanced mobile communications technology with sustainable mobility services. Such advances will be crucial to improving the quality of life in urban areas across the world in the 21st century — offering affordable, reliable, convenient, job-creating, low-carbon mobility solutions," Zegras told The Indian Express.

The researchers studying the "Future of Urban Mobility" project at MIT have found that a major problem being faced by developed countries like Singapore is their car-centric infrastructure. This has caused a high auto-dependence, with too many people choosing to use cars. "Countries like Singapore can't turn back the clock. But many other cities which have rickshaws in public transport can replicate the eco cab concept. Fazilka will be a case study for our project, to spread the word about how it can be done. If something good happens in Fazilka but nobody comes to know about it, it will be a big waste," said Ching.

GWAF Secretary Navdeep Asija said the township has five call centres for the eco cab project. The project will get a further boost with a new scheme introduced by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

Sandeep Diwan, BSNL's General Manager (Enterprise Business) said that for the first time in the country, the Nigam has given 900 pre-paid mobile connections under a closed user group. Within the group, users have free unlimited calling. With a dedicated series, the project will soon have nine call centres and greater access to rickshaw pullers.

"The eco cab project works best within a zone of 3 km. Bigger cities can create sub-zones to ensure success of the project," said Asija.

HC flak for Haryana for not launching eco cabs

Irked over non-filing of a response with regard to the steps taken for the launch of eco cabs, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday directed the director of Haryana urban bodies department to be present before the court on the next date of hearing.

A division bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and Ajay Tewari observed that the state's response was not too serious towards the issue. The directions were passed during the resumed hearing of a PIL arising out of a suo motu notice taken by the high court on a news item published in The Indian Express.

The court held that on March 25, the bench had asked the government to get in touch with Navdeep Asija — running a Graduates Welfare Association in Fazilka — to take his views into consideration on the issue of introducing eco rickshaws.

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