City officials in Delhi are sparring with activists and transportation policy wonks over a ubiquitous site on the streets of India—cycle rickshaws. The city banned the three-wheelers from many areas three years ago, and though the ban was recently overturned, everyone says the fight is far from over.
Bureaucrats can tick off a long list of reasons for banning rickshaws. They’re annoying and dangerous. They impede traffic, clog roads, cause pile-ups and occasionally nail pedestrians. City officials say there are 300,000 to 400,000 rickshaws on the streets of Delhi—triple what is allowed—and because they’re considered an “ethnic mode of transportation” they can’t be cited for violating traffic laws, which they do all the time. Officials also play the organized crime card, saying the rickshaw business is run by a shadowy rickshaw mafia that preys on the poor.
Activists in India and beyond are fighting back hard. To give rickshaw drivers a voice, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy convened the Rickshaw Advocacy Group. the lobbying and support network offers several good reasons why banning rickshaws is a bad idea.
First off, yanking rickshaws off the street could throw tens of thousands of residents out of work—many of them migrants with few possibilities for alternate employment. The Institute also points out something that should be painfully obvious: rickshaws work. They carry 100,000 people through Delhi each day, and they do it cheaply, quietly and with zero pollution. Thanks to the Institute, the rickshaw debate now includes phrases like global warming and clean transport. As it should be.
In a country with so explosive an economy as India, anything that increases mobility while minimizing pollution should be embraced, not banned. But then, it might be India’s economic ascendancy that is at least partially motivating the ban. India wants to be seen as a vibrant, modern country, and there may be concern that rickshaw-clogged streets paint the wrong picture. If that is the case, someone should remind Delhi’s leaders there are rickshaws rolling down the streets of Paris, London, and Singapore.
Thanks to the Institute’s efforts, India’s Supreme Court recently tossed out Delhi’s ban, but no one thinks the city is ready to give up the fight. Should the city get its way, it might not matter anyway. One rickshaw driver told a newspaper in India that when the last ban was in place, he and his fellow drivers simply ignored it.
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