In 1998, the ITDP India Programme began its journey in Agra with a project to combat growing threats of vehicular pollution. This involved the transformation of the humble cycle-rickshaw into a vehicle that is easy on the pullers and more comfortable for passengers.

While the West looked for sustainable transport solutions, most Asian countries already had the solution—cycle-rickshaws plied in every nook and corner, offering non-polluting and cost-effective means for last-mile connectivity.

The India Cycle Rickshaw Improvement Project, started by ITDP New York along with other Indian organisations, looked to check the damage caused to the world heritage monument—Taj Mahal—by vehicular pollution. What started off as five prototypes has become the standard design in many North Indian cities such as Agra, Ghaziabad, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bharatpur, and Mathura. Today, around half-a-million of these modern cycle-rickshaws serve four to five million zero-carbon trips daily.

After extensive research, real-life testing of prototypes, and public participation for over three years, a modernised cycle-rickshaw was created. These are revolutionary in terms of safety and comfort. The weight was reduced by more than 30% (55 kg) and the passenger seat woven with a nylon strap, providing a less bumpy ride. Drivers could ply them for a longer duration, increasing their earnings by close to 50%.

Since their commercial introduction, cycle-rickshaw numbers have increased from a mere 8,000 to half a million in 2018. In this context, shouldn’t more Indian cities take a leaf out of Agra and make cycle-rickshaws an integral part of urban transport?