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Cyclerickshaws disappearing in Gurugram due to cabs, metro rail

Until 2009, the city’s only mode of public transport in most areas were these rickshaws. A year later, however, takers for the vehicles reduced when the Delhi Metro

gurgaon Updated: Sep 10, 2018 04:38 IST
Kartik Kumar
Kartik Kumar
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Experts estimate that the number of cycle rickshaws, which were earlier around 10,000, are now below 1,000.(HT Photo)

Ashraful, a native of Lalgola in West Bengal, moved to Gurugram 10 years ago and was a rickshaw puller until four years ago, when he became a taxi driver following the expansion of the Metro rail to the city and cabs started swarming the streets.

During his first six years in the city, Ashraful ended each day by parking his vehicle near the MG Road Metro station and using it as his sleeping quarters. It was only four years ago that he finally moved into a rented apartment in Jharsa village, where he continues to reside.

The change in fortune, he says, came about after he gave up plying cycle rickshaws and started working for a private taxi service. “As a rickshaw puller, I used to earn around Rs 100 per day, which was enough to sustain myself and also send some home each month. However, when I began driving the taxi, my income increased almost tenfold,” he said.

Financial difficulty, however, was not the reason Ashraful gave up his job as a rickshaw puller.

“I used to earn enough to sustain myself in the initial years after I moved to the city as there were many takers for cycle rickshaws. But, with the introduction of the Delhi Metro and an increase in autorickshaws and private cabs in the city, even my regular customers stopped using cycle rickshaws,” he said.

“There were days when I would get only one passenger,” said Ashraful.

Until 2009, the city’s only mode of public transport in most areas were these rickshaws. A year later, however, takers for the vehicles reduced when the Delhi Metro’s Yellow line was extended to Gurugram and, with aggregator based cab services and e-rickshaws hitting the roads in the following years, the demand for cycle rickshaws fell sharply.

In 2012, disheartened and in debt, Ashraful returned to his hometown along with six others in the city who were facing the same problem. “I persuaded my uncle to teach me how to drive a car and then returned to Gurugram. By then, there was a surge in demand for private cabs and, consequently, drivers for these,” said Ashraful.

Gurugram residents, who have been in the city for over a decade, say that Ashraful’s tale is a common one in the city that is now heavily dependent on advanced, motorised modes of transport.

Although the Regional Transport Office (RTO) has not compiled data on non-motorised vehicles, experts in the city estimate that there were over 9,000 cycle rickshaws in Gurugram in 2009. Today, they estimate the number to be in hundreds.

“I have been compiling and analysing reports of various modes of public transport in the city and remember that the number of cycle rickshaws was just under 10,000. Today, the figure is likely to be below 1,000 as many other public transport modes have emerged over the last decade,” said Sarika Panda Bhatt, Head - Integrated Transport and Road Safety, WRI India.

Even residents who recall the time when cycle rickshaws were the only available mode of transportation, acknowledge that things are different today.

“I used to live in Heritage City and for cricket practice, I used to take a cycle rickshaw to reach DLF Phase-3 in the 2000s. Even in a prime area such as MG Road, there was no other mode of transport at the time,” said Sashank Srinivasan, a resident of Nirvana Country.

“However, today, with the Metro extending to the area, and cabs being lined up along the road, everything has changed,” he said.

As a result, cycle rickshaw pullers gave up their vehicles for other professions that offered more money.

Ghalib Baig, who came to the city from Uttar Pradesh’s Bastora Rani, is one of the few men who continued to stick with the profession even after other modes of transportation became more prevalent. However, six months ago, he took up a job as a driver of an autorickshaw attached with a private cab aggregator.

“Earlier, I was staying in a single bedroom with six other people, and earning between ₹300 and ₹400 daily. However, when I got married last year, my responsibilities increased and the money was no longer enough to see us through,” said Baig.

“I asked my brother, who used to be an autorickshaw driver, to help me make the switch and took up this job four months ago. My income has tripled as a result and I have been able to move to a three-bedroom house that I share with two others,” he said.

Baig, however, considers himself fortunate to have smoothly been able to make the switch. Many of the men he interacted with as a cycle rickshaw driver, according to him, have either had to return home or are still struggling to make ends meet.

Ashraful also reiterated this point, revealing that the six men who had returned home with him have not come back to Gurugram. “By the time I came back, after learning how to drive a car, most of the cycle rickshaw drivers I had known had left the profession and were untraceable,” he said.

Munir Ul Haque is among the few cycle rickshaw drivers in Gurugram today who, despite recognising that the profession is no longer viable, have been unable to take up an alternate one.

“I was 12 years old when I came to Gurugram from Malda in West Bengal and began working as a cycle rickshaw puller in 2005. There was stiff competition at that time. Each area had its own set of rickshaw drivers and I used to dream of getting a spot along the MG Road,” said Munir.

It was in 2007 that Munir graduated from Old Gurugram to MG Road. The bragging rights, however, lasted barely for a year.

“First, the pink autos came, then the Delhi Metro, then cabs, e-rickshaws and so on. Each passing year, the income reduced further. I am illiterate and I don’t have any family to fall back on. I have been trying to learn how to drive a car for the past few months but since I don’t know how to read or understand the navigation properly, this is proving to be difficult and I am yet to find another job,” he said.

While the non-motorised modes of transport are on a decline in Gurugram, cycle rickshaws continue to be stationed in large number outside major Metro stations across the Capital.

These not only provide last-mile connectivity to lakhs of Delhi residents but are also environment-friendly.

“Cyclerickshaws are ideal for short distances, hence they work well in New Delhi. In the case of Gurugram, the distances are long due to poor last-mile connectivity and public transportation. This void, over time, has been filled largely by shared autorickshaws and private cabs, which are not only cheaper than cycle rickshaws but much faster,” said Sewa Ram, an urban transport systems design expert and a faculty member at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA). He is a Gurugram resident.

Under the integrated mobility plan of 2010 devised by Wilbur Smith Associates, the importance of non-motorised vehicles is highlighted, in terms of providing last-mile connectivity in the narrow lanes of Gurugram, which motor vehicles cannot access, either due to congestion or the narrow width.

In the 2018 integrated mobility plan being prepared by transport experts, at the behest of the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), the role of cycle rickshaws remains a crucial point.

“In the integrated mobility plan there is focus on clean energy and it has been pointed out that it is extremely important to integrate cycle rickshaws in congested areas of Gurugram. One of the recommendations in the plan is for creating a non-motorised corridor within Sadar Bazar, where only cycle rickshaws will ply, for helping people reach different points within the market,” said Ram, who is compiling the integrated mobility plan for GMDA.

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 04:37 IST