Traffic and rickshaws in India – a chance for social entrepreneurs

The traffic situation in many big and small cities in India is critical. Just in Mumbai, every day 250 (!) more cars join the streets. Often you stick into traffic jams and 3 km can easily take more than an hour. Better not thinking of all the – at least for Europeans – apparently dangerous situations when vehicles from all directions are passing just a centimeter away from you…
Although the number of cars and motorcycles is enormous, the number of rickshaws is not going down. In some parts of the country the number of rickshaws is even growing.

Rickshaws as are an important vehicle in countries like India. They are the only available means of public transport for short distances, especially within the various colonies which are spread over large geographical areas. In addition, they are convenient and available almost at your doorstep. Not just for tourists… Rickshaws offer a much-needed and valuable public service, especially for the low-income groups. And for transportations needs…

Motorized driver

Meanwhile in Mumbai and the southern regions you find mostly motorized rickshaws, the situation looks different in Orissa,
Delhi, Bihar … In the North and East there are more than 10 millions rickshaws in operation. Cycle rickshaw is one of the oldest and cheapest public transport mode in India.

Rickshaw licenses and law issues
Despite laws saying that licenses will only be issued to owners who pull their own rickshaws, there are mostly rickshaw entrepreneurs owning small or big fleets ranging from five to a couple of hundred rickshaws, the so- called thekedars or contractors.
However, even after bribes, no contractor is given licenses for his full fleet. A person who owns 100 rickshaws is not likely to have more than 15 to 20 licensed vehicles. The rest remain illegal. And “monthly” payment per rickshaw do not save their rickshaws from confiscation… The rickshaw business seems to be still a very critical one.

Who are these rickshaw pullers?
The rickshaws pullers often are agricultural migrants, mostly unskilled workers who depend often on the good will of their boss. Just about 10% of the cycle rickshaws are owned by the pullers. The pullers pay daily rent to fleet owners, also with high interests in case a day he gains less and cannot pay back immediately. They are rarely organized in rickshaw communities. Due to their bad financial situation they do not get access to better working conditions, and getting credit from banking facilities for many of them is simply unthinkable. Studies show that on an average a rickshaw puller raises a family of four to five members. So, forty to fifty million people may depend on these income source.
Behind that there are also missing opportunities to create a better life for the families, better education for children, health care issues…

One interesting approach to change this situation has been started by Sammaan foundation that developed a robust business model that includes not just better conditions for rickshaws pullers, but aims to create a better life situation to entire rickshaws pullers’ families.

Probably, there is still a huge potential of work to do for other social entrepreneurs… Not just around rickshaws, but the traffic issue in general.

Related sources

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