June 2002 Contents
Super Achievers & Success
at Every Alien Door'
A group of environmentally-conscious engineers, with financial assistance from USAID, have re-designed the traditional cycle-rickshaw. The new version is lighter in weight and fitted with a 10-speed gear system which not just accelerates but also ensures smoother pedalling and has ergonomically improved saddle and seat.
Rickshaws have been a recent addition on Sloane Street in London, and have been around in Oxford for a few years now - a far cry from the rickshaws and the chaotic traffic conditions of south Asian countries.
A rickshaw puller riding in the fast lane with the speed of a snail, blissfully indifferent to the blaring horns of a car driver who is dangerously close to road rage – is an oft seen experience. Such scenes are an everyday affair even as India remains one of the last few Asian countries where human-pulled rickshaws not just exist but are rising in numbers despite efforts to replace them with technologically advanced means of transport.
But like them or not, rickshaws are here to stay as their existence is justified by many experts who feel they are environmentally friendly and the only answer to the mounting pollution levels in mega cities.
A group of environmentally-conscious engineers, have raised the standards of rickshaws by using new technology. On October 29, a fleet of four-dozen human-powered rickshaws were launched in Agra with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop - the world-famous monument that has been threatened by pollution from vehicular traffic in the city.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funds for the new improved rickshaw in the hope that these would replace the smoke-bellowing three-wheelers and taxis that ply by the hundreds in Agra.
The newly developed model---designed by the US based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in collaboration with India's Asian Institute for Transportation and Development (AITD) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)---could signal a freedom from centuries of drudgery and labour for rickshaw pullers who currently number over three million.
The prototype model is easier to operate, faster and lighter (55 kgs as compared to the traditional 90 kgs). Apart from these changes, the rickshaw is more roomy and fitted with ergonomically improved saddle and seat.
The main feature is the 10-speed gear system, which not just accelerates but also ensures smoother pedalling. The new model reduces strain on the puller and he can operate for longer hours, earn more money and all this with less energy output.
The USAID gave $100,000 for a time span of three years for the success of this project. Now, after two years the result is this technologically advanced rickshaw.
Taj Mahal is a classic case of the devastating effect of pollution on heritage sites. Soot and smoke have turned the colour of marble and sandstone walls into a dirty brown and years of carbon monoxide and other pollutants have in parts crumbled the stone and weakened the mortar.
In 1994 the Supreme Court ordered a ban on taxis and buses within a four-kilometer radius of the Taj. Despite the ban, vehicles ply around the monument with a gay abandon because of the thousands of tourists who throng here almost daily.
Now experts feel that fitted with a new design the traditional mode of transport will go a long way in saving the Taj from the onslaught of pollution.The improved design is fitted with the chassis of a conventional rickshaw. However, a two-speed gear system has been introduced which enables the rickshaw-puller to pedal easily.
The new model also consists of bars designed in a way that the driver does not have to strain his wrist and lungs, thereby reducing his labour. It also has ample storing space under the seat as well as night safety reflectors.
The new rickshaw costs Rs 4,000 but the installation of just the gear kit in an old model costs only Rs 300. Says Martin Martignoni, vice president, ITDP, " The new design will revolutionise a mode of transportation that has fallen out of favour with western tourists." Which is true. Though some tourists look at rickshaws as exotic means of transport, most say it is demeaning to use human beings like beasts of burden.
The improved version may change that perception. An attempt has been made to transform the puller into a driver who does not have to sweat it out for hours on end to earn a living. Life would become far less arduous thanks to the added technological dimension. Besides, if properly marketed, it would significantly decrease the pollution levels in cities.
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