This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation.
Rajkot is one of the fastest growing cities in India, with a population of around 1.3 million in 2011. Rapid urbanization and a growing economy have led to urban sprawl and increasing private motorization. The negative externalities of these trends, such as congestion, pollution and road fatalities, are affecting the quality of life of Rajkot’s citizens. Given these issues, it is imperative for Rajkot to adopt sustainable transport practices, using the “Avoid-Shift-Improve” strategy, to ensure a better quality of life for citizens, in terms of a faster and reliable commute, clean air and safe roads.
The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) is currently undertaking several sustainable transport initiatives. These include:
- a bus rapid transit (BRT) service along a 10.7-kilometer (6.6-mile) corridor
- city bus services across the city by awarding contracts to a private operator
- promotion of non-motorized transport across the city
- development of a city-wide parking policy
- improvement of auto-rickshaw services to ensure integrated mobility options for citizens
The RMC’s solutions to improve auto-rickshaw services, in particular, will play an important role in enhancing the quality of life for Rajkot’s citizens.
The Importance of Auto-Rickshaw Services in Rajkot
Auto-rickshaws currently play an important role in Rajkot’s urban transport system. Based on data obtained from the Regional Transport Office (RTO), Rajkot currently has about 12,500 auto-rickshaws, and they are serving the mobility needs of citizens in the following ways:
- Providing last-leg connectivity at important transit hubs, including the railway station and State Transport (ST) bus stand;
- Serving the door-to-door mobility needs of housewives and senior citizens for all trip purposes (i.e. shopping, healthcare, recreation, etc.)
- Serving the mobility needs of school children
- Serving the door-to-door mobility needs of tourists and other visitors to Rajkot
Understanding the Challenges
Although auto-rickshaws are playing an important role in meeting the mobility needs of Rajkot’s inhabitants, there is a need to understand current challenges, if any, in the sector, which may be impacting quality of service and also contributing, to some extent, to the increasing reliance on private motor vehicles. The RMC, in partnership with EMBARQ India, organized a Stakeholder Workshop in September 2011 to assess the need for reforms in Rajkot’s auto-rickshaw sector. The deliberations at the workshop revealed the following challenges facing the auto-rickshaw sector in Rajkot, driven primarily by the unorganized nature of services:
- Poor public perception and lack of a brand image for auto-rickshaw services
- Informal fares, leading to fare uncertainties
- Lack of employment benefits and access to additional revenue sources, such as advertising
- Operational inefficiencies due to empty trips and lack of regular maintenance
- Lack of technology-based, value-added services, such as GPS-tracking and dial-a-rickshaw services
One of the key outcomes of the workshop was the need to promote organized fleet auto-rickshaw services in Rajkot, the benefits of which can be felt by drivers (i.e. employment benefits), passengers (i.e. improvements in quality of service), and the city, as a whole (i.e. mitigation of environmental impacts from current operations.) Fleet organization in the unorganized auto-rickshaw sector is an approach that involves providing service using a fleet of auto-rickshaws that are organized and operated under a unified brand name and image.
Catalyzing Entrepreneur-Driven Fleet Service in Rajkot
There have been quite a few entrepreneur-driven fleet auto-rickshaw initiatives in different Indian cities aimed at addressing challenges and improving quality of service. These initiatives highlight the opportunities that exist for Rajkot to promote fleet-based services in the auto-rickshaw sector that can lead to the following benefits:
- Distinct brand image and improvement in public perception about auto-rickshaw services
- Improvement in quality of service due to the introduction of formal meter-based fare system, based on government-regulated fares
- Introduction of employment benefits to drivers, such as insurance, and additional revenue from advertising
- Introduction of technology-based dispatch service (i.e. dial-a-rickshaw), with an organized fleet
- Improvements in environmental performance due to operational efficiencies (i.e. reduction in empty trips) and better maintained vehicles
RMC, in partnership with EMBARQ India, is currently working with a strategic partner to implement fleet auto-rickshaw services in Rajkot. This, coupled with the existing public transport improvement initiatives, will ensure that Rajkot has a high-quality integrated public transport system, which promotes mobility options for all sections of society.