8. On-call rickshaws, with frills, proposed for Games

June 3rd, 2010 - 11:58 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, June 3 (IANS) The humble cycle rickshaw could jazz up for the Commonwealth Games, complete with a driver-cum-tourist guide, newspapers and fruit juices. Around 1,000 battery-operated rickshaws will be on call during the event if a proposal with the Delhi government comes through.

“The proposal is that 1,000 battery- operated rickshaws should be run in the Commonwealth Games village and the rest of the capital during the Games,” said Irfan Alam of the Bihar-based NGO Sammaan Foundation, which works for the uplift of rickshaw pullers and has mooted the idea.

“We are in talks with the Delhi government and other agencies about this project and hopefully things should come through in the next three months,” Alam told IANS.

“Not only will these be eco-friendly modes of transport but also convenient, inexpensive and attractive thanks to the value additions that we have incorporated in the model.”

An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), Alam started his NGO three years ago and designed a rickshaw model that was lighter in weight, had more leg and luggage space and also offered value- added services like newspapers, fruit juices and bottled water while on the move.

Since the Commonwealth Games are just four months away - Oct 3-14 - Alam said he has suggested that a modified model of these rickshaws be made operational during that period.

“The battery-operated rickshaws will offer the on-call service. There will be a customer care number where you can call to book a rickshaw. There will be a fare chart, so you will know exactly how much you have to pay for a particular distance. The fares will be nominal,” Alam said.

“The rickshaws will also offer value-added services like free newspapers and you can even buy bottled water or juices while travelling. The rickshaw pullers will be trained to double up as tourist guides so that visitors can travel and learn more about the capital while on the move,” he added.

“The Delhi government has been quite supportive and I am quite positive that this project will come through successfully. Maybe if things go well, these rickshaws can stay on even after the Games are over,” Alam said.

Not just that. Alam - with help from some soap brands like Lifebuoy - also developed a sustainable business model by which rickshaw pullers, instead of taking their vehicles on rent, can take a loan from a bank and own a rickshaw over a period of time.

From just 300 rickshaws, the NGO today has 500,000 cycle rickshaws registered with it across the country - each with a number plate and the driver with an identity card. What’s more, these offer passengers an accident insurance of up to Rs.1 lakh.

There are around 10 million cycle rickshaws operating in the country, but most of them don’t have licences.

Alam was one of the 79 from across the globe who was invited by US President Barack Obama to present his business model at the two-day presidential summit on entrepreneurship in Washington in April.

Even as his model has intrigued audiences in universities abroad like Harvard and Stanford and found takers back home like the Madhya Pradesh government, Alam said the Delhi government too approached him for a “fitter connectivity” in the national capital.

“We are working with the Delhi government to introduce these eco-friendly, fitter modes of transport in the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor, to begin with, in the next few weeks. The idea is to then introduce these models across Delhi,” Alam told IANS.

A similar plan is being drawn up by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI). According to its proposal submitted to the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games, 50 designer cycle rickshaws - with antique gramaphones and Bollywood themes - may ply in the 63.5 hectare Games village during the mega event.

This proposal too is under consideration.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in)

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