Friday, 1 June 2012

Let's Hail a Rickshaw.

DILIP SINGH looks important. A rickshaw puller by profession, he is also the president of the south zone Ecocab’s Dial-a-rickshaw service in Fazilka, a town in Punjab. Wearing a crisp shirt and smart shoes, he flashes his android cellphone and says, “Gone are the days when rickshaw pullers were known for dirty, unkempt looks.” Just like taxis in other cities, rickshaws in Fazilka arrive at the doorstep when called on their service number.
Complete with a fleet of uniform-wearing pullers and a strict etiquette code to follow, Dial a rickshaw is a modern twist to an old mode of transport. The rickshaw pullers can lose their licence if found misbehaving. Says Navdip Asija, an IIT graduate and a leading member of Graduates Welfare Association, Fazilka: “We did not want rickshaws to be known as a poor person’s transport. In this town even the wealthy and the aged demand such services.”
One can locate the nearest Ecocab call centre by using Google Maps or GPS. Ecocab also has a website where one can check details of the registered rickshaw pullers. 
Every day about 500 rickshaw pullers ferry 10,000 passengers. Each zone in the town has a dedicated phone number and at least 30 rickshaw pullers are available round-the-clock. Every puller owns a cellphone. Around 65 per cent of the pullers own their rickshaws. Ecocab provides each puller an insurance policy worth Rs 50,000. A set of woollens every winter and medical checkup and medicines are also offered at discounted prices. They also get legal aid and support for children’s schooling.

Amritsar has adopted Fazilka’s Ecocab model. In Patiala, a non-profit has started a similar service called Green Cabs

Fazilka’s community is reaping the benefits of the service. The Ecocab saves as much as 1,500 litres of fuel every day for the city. It has made travel safer. Resident Asha Kumari says, “Initially it used to be a long walk before I could get a rickshaw. Now all I have to do is pick up my phone. I also feel very safe.”
The service has helped the prime business area of Ghanta Ghar become a car-free zone. Following the services’ success, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has issued suo moto direction to both Punjab and Haryana to find ways to replicate Ecocab service in the rest of the state.

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