Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Women, work and how a rickshaw revolution could help India

By Kasturi GVL

To solve women’s urban mobility challenges, a completely reimagined vehicle is needed, one that is electric, shared, safe and “smart.”

Indian women’s travel is characterized by “trip chaining.” They make shorter and more frequent trips than men, and their trips often involve more stops, to run errands, shop, pick up children from school and so forth.

This increases their dependency on first and last-mile transportation. However, most rickshaws operating in India today are unorganized and ply only the busiest, most lucrative routes.

With the right innovations in technology and policy, order can be brought to the scattershot nature of India’s auto-rickshaw fleet and bridge the demand-supply gap.

For example, ride-hailing apps and booking platforms could efficiently match rider demand with rickshaw supply, as would well-orchestrated feeder services to bus and rail networks. Policies that encourage ride sharing could multiply fleet capacity.

In terms of safety, it is necessary to consider both accidents and crime or harassment. For starters, nearly 40 percent of all accidents involving these vehicles cause them to topple, and a study in Delhi found that 51 percent of women had faced some form of harassment while using public transport, and 42 percent while waiting for it.

Innovations in accident prevention systems and other technologies are needed to make such technologies a feature of low-cost three-wheelers. Technology could also help connect transportation nodes and vehicles to police and medical systems, substantially reducing the response times for emergency services.

Safety from crime, on the other hand, needs a connected, smart ecosystem with auto-rickshaws at its heart. Rickshaws equipped with GPS systems could enable passengers to share real-time location data with family or friends.

A mandatory SOS alert system would give passengers and drivers a means to call for help, regardless of whether they were carrying a mobile phone.

Government regulations already require panic buttons in taxis, public buses and other public transport; requiring them for rickshaws is the natural next step.

Last but not least, these reimagined vehicles need to be future-ready. Air pollution is a ticking bomb: 14 of the 15 cities with the world’s highest concentrations of fine particulate matter are in India, underscoring the urgency of switching to low-carbon, battery-powered vehicles.

When women can travel to work conveniently, choosing affordable transportation, without fear of harassment or abuse, India would have arrived. Talented women like Astha would never need to choose between a job they love and a commute they loathe.

Indian women need affordable, safe and reliable options to help them overcome the first-last mile problem. A reimagined rickshaw could be just the ticket.

Kasturi GVL, a One Young World ambassador from India, is associate director at Ola Cabs, a mobility company based in Bengaluru, India.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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