Some of India's "pullers" test a new solar-electric model.
This the VOA Special English Development Report.
Picture a bicycle with a two-wheeled carriage in place of a back tire. India has millions of these cycle rickshaws. The operators are called pullers. They ride through the streets pulling passengers and goods. Unlike auto rickshaws, which burn fuel, cycle rickshaws produce no pollution. But the job of a rickshaw puller is not easy.
Now, to help ease their labor, there is the Solar-Electric Rickshaw, or Soleckshaw. This is the product of work of several scientific, industrial and environmental agencies.
An electric motor helps the operator pull a heavy load or go up a hill. A 36 volt battery can carry the rickshaw 40 kilometers. Top speed is 15 kilometers an hour, and the Soleckshaw does not pollute. The project includes a battery charging station at a Delhi Metro Rail Station.
Testing of the Soleckshaw was launched in Delhi in October. The nonprofit Center for Rural Development is supervising the project.
The goal with the new rickshaw is to increase the number of trips per day that the pullers can make. There is also space for advertising, a way for them to earn additional money.
The designers suggest that rickshaw pullers could repay a loan to buy a Soleckshaw within about 2 or 3 years. They could borrow the money from the Rickshaw Bank.
India's 7 to 8 million pullers usually pay 1/3 of their earnings to the owner of a rickshaw to use it by the day. But in 2004 the Center for Rural Development had the idea for a bank to help self-employed workers buy their own rickshaws.
There are plans for improved versions of the Soleckshaw, and to use them when New Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games next year.
Vandana Prakash writes about environmental policy. She wrote at ecowordly.com that Soleckshaws are a great step forward. But she says several important issues and questions are getting lost in all the excitement.
She suggests that pullers might not be able to earn enough to pay back a loan for the current high cost of a Soleckshaw. The price is 440 dollars compared to 170, or less, for a traditional cycle rickshaw.
And how, she asks, will they handle additional costs such as electric charging, batteries and solar panels? Vandana Prakash says the dream of creating "proud owners" needs greater planning and market research.
And that's the VOA Special English Development Report. It was written by Jerilyn Watson