Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari’s announcement of a special scheme for e-rickshaws last Tuesday has given a boost to these battery-operated vehicles, which have already replaced cycle-rickshaws in most areas and are slowly inching out auto-rickshaws.
With Gadkari coming out in support of e-rickshaw drivers, these three-wheelers have been ensured a free run with a proper policy yet to be worked out by the municipal corporations.
The new scheme — Deen Dayal e-rickshaw scheme — will allow e-rickshaws to operate without any testing to ensure basic quality standards. Also, Traffic Police can no longer fine them.
“No case can be registered against e-rickshaws and no challan can be issued as these battery-operated vehicles do not fall under the category of motor vehicles,’’ a traffic police officer said.
But all this has done little to dampen the popularity of these vehicles, which are proliferating by the day outside Metro stations, malls and colonies.
“Unlike a cycle rickshaw, a family of four can travel comfortably in an e-rickshaw. I no longer have to take my car to go to the market,’’ Radhika Singh, a resident of East Delhi, said.
Auto unions have sought a meeting with Gadkari to ask him to limit these battery-operated vehicles to colonies.
“They will create a traffic nuisance otherwise. Also, how have the poor benefitted from the relief given to e-rickshaws owners and drivers? It is the cycle rickshaws drivers who need relief. Government should give e-rickshaws to them and take steps to prevent the formation of a cartel,’’ Rajinder Soni of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh said.
Fare and cost of vehicle
The traffic hazards caused by e-rickshaws have been a cause for concern for a while now. A study by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) — done on the request of the Delhi government — had recommended that these battery-operated vehicles be kept off the main roads. A difficult ask, considering that this is the only mode of shared transport in the city which doesn’t hurt the pocket.
“We charge Rs 10 each passenger for distances between 2 km and 5 km. There are no fixed charges. Each association has its own fare.
For instance, if someone needs to go from Tilak Nagar to Punjabi Bagh, we would charge them Rs 100,’’ Gurmeet Singh of Khalsa Battery-Operated E-rickshaw Union, said.
Compare these charges to auto-rickshaw fares, which were last hiked in May 2013. A commuter has to shell out a minimum fare of Rs 25 for the first 2 km and Rs 8 for each additional kilometre.
Fares apart, the cost of auto-rickshaw is double that of an e-rickshaw. While an e-rickshaw costs around Rs 85,000 and an auto-rickshaw will set you back by Rs 1.68 lakh.
“The e-rickshaws operate on four batteries, which last for six months. New ones can be had for Rs 25,000. These batteries need to be charged overnight and can operate for 80 km,’’ Singh said.
An auto-rickshaw, on the other hand, requires Rs 100 worth of CNG to run a whole day.
Safety and security
E-rickshaws may be easy on your pockets, but how safe are they? These vehicles, meant to seat only four, are seen plying with seven to eight passengers. This, experts say, is a safety hazard.
“We take only four passengers,’’ claimed Raju, an e-rickshaw driver, who pays a daily rent of Rs 250 for the vehicle.
“To earn more, a driver overloads the vehicle. This makes the vehicle lose its balance and can lead to accidents. Since the e-rickshaws do not come under the category of motor vehicles, they cannot be challaned. They can only be impounded in case of a lane violation,’’ a traffic police officer said.
According to new rules, municipal corporations will carry out registrations of e-rickshaws and also issue identity cards to drivers. The directives state that ID card will be issued to a driver only after he gives a ‘declaration’ that he will not violate traffic rules.
In comparison, auto-rickshaws are a much safer option as they seat only a maximum of three passengers and can be fined for violations.
“E-rickshaw drivers don’t have to get driving licences or badges, which are mandatory for auto-rickshaws. Also, there is no provision for third-party insurance if an e-rickshaw is involved in an accident,’’ Soni said.
But e-rickshaw operators claim that women feel more safe in their vehicles as they are open on all sides. Also, many women are driving e-rickshaws as opposed to auto-rickshaws.
E-rickshaws: Charge Rs 10 for a distance between 2-5 km
Auto-rickshaws: Rs 25 for first 2 km, Rs 8 for every additional km
Auto-rickshaws: Rs 1.68 lakh
E-rickshaws: Municipal corporations yet to formulate a policy to govern them
Auto-rickshaws: Comes under the Motor Vehicles’ Act, 1988
E-rickshaws: To be driven at a speed of 25 kmph. But most of these vehicles travel at a speed between 20 and 35 kmph.
Auto-rickshaws: Can travel at a maximum speed of 60-70 kmph.
E-rickshaws:Maximum seating capacity is four. But drivers ferry more as they cannot be fined
Auto-rickshaws: Maximum capacity is three. Overloading can incur a fine from the traffic police
E-rickshaws: No licence needed at present to drive one
Auto-rickshaws: Licence and badge mandatory
Auto-rickshaws, which are covered under the Motor Vehicles’ Act, can travel at a maximum speed of 60kmph.
Deen Dayal E-rickshaw Scheme: It legalises operation of e-rickshaws
* E-rickshaws with motor power up to 650W would now be considered as non-motorised vehicles and will not come under the ambit of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
* The driver of e-rickshaws will be the owner of the vehicle
* No quality standard testing will be required
* Four people can travel in an e-rickshaw at a time and 25-50 kg of luggage can be transported on these battery-operated vehicles
* Registration of e-rickshaws will be carried out by municipal corporations on payment of Rs 100
* Municipal corporations will issue identity cards for e-rickshaw drivers and will formulate state policies along with police. They will also decide on the number of e-rickshaws that will be allowed to ply
* E-rickshaw owners to get loans at 3 per cent interest without producing a guarantee
‘Before this, I have never ridden even a bicycle’
Meena has never ridden even a bicycle in her life. But that did not stop her from getting into the drivers’ seat of an e-rickshaw 10 months ago to fend for her family. Now, she confidently ferries passengers around Tagore Garden.
Before the e-rickshaw came her way, Meena was working as a domestic help, struggling to make ends meet. With no husband to support her, Meena decided to buy an e-rickshaw to earn more. She bought one with the help of “aunties” in whose houses she used to work as a help. Now, she earns between Rs 500 and Rs 600 a day.
“I had three children to support. I saw e-rickshaws plying on the road and decided to purchase one 10 months ago. I took a loan from the “aunties” in whose houses I worked in as a help. My brother taught me how to operate the vehicle for a few weeks. Then, I started ferrying the “aunties” around for practice. Now I work from 7 am to 6 pm and have enough money to support my family,’’ Meena says.
Apart from the basic lessons her brother gave her, Meena has had no formal training in driving any kind of vehicle. “The first week was tough. To drive on congested roads is difficult. So I now stick to a known route,” she says.
Since e-rickshaws don’t come under the ambit of the Motor Vehicles’ Act, its drivers do not require a licence. This, traffic police officers say, is a matter of concern. “No comprehensive background check is carried out on e-rickshaw drivers as they do not even have to get public service badges. This could lead to a safety and security issue,’’ a traffic police officer says.
In areas such as Tilak Nagar, many elderly men were seen driving e-rickshaws. Ranjit Singh, who is part of an e-rickshaw association, says, “We do not have any restrictions like age-limit since we are not governed by Motor Vehicles’ Act.’’
According to Delhi Traffic Police data, 25 accidents involving e-rickshaws, one of them fatal, have taken place in the city in the year since they became operational. “The absence of certification by a third party, regulations on speed and overloading make e-rickshaws an unsafe option,” a Transport official said.