Just how many rickshaws can this city take? It seems like there is no clear answer, neither with the unions whose demands vary from 28,000 to a lakh new rickshaws, nor with the state transport department.
The reasoning behind the same is that with the suburban areas having grown manifold since 1998, when permits for new autorickshaws were frozen, the number of rickshaws currently on the streets of Mumbai are inadequate.
Speaking to DNA earlier, Shashank Rao, assistant general secretary of the Mumbai Autorickshawmen’s Union had said that his union was demanding at least 1 lakh new permits so that the 1,50,000 badge-holders could buy new rickshaws and drive them. The city has around four lakh badge holders despite the fact that a vast majority of them have taken up other professions.
Any suggestions of the move increasing congestion, especially since rickshaws make far more trips per day than private cars, was brushed aside by Rao. “We are adding one lakh private vehicles to the city every year. We don’t talk about congestion then but the moment we speak about rickshaws, this congestion debate comes up,” said Rao.
On the other hand, the demand for an extra 1 lakh rickshaw permits has created a deep divide within the rickshaw community itself. Thampi Kurian, general secretary of the Mumbai Rickshawmen’s Union said that the move could lessen the income of drivers. “One lakh is a very high figure. Where are the roads to drive one lakh extra rickshaws? We have been asking the state government to renew the 28,260 permits that have been cancelled,” said Kurian.
Currently, figures with the rickshaw unions show that a rickshaw driven in two shifts clocks close to 180 kilometers and earns the driver about Rs7,000 per month.
For the state transport department, the extra rickshaws would be an additional headache. With dwindling numbers of personnel, the department faced a tough time getting rickshaws to change to electronic meters — something done with considerable amount of success — and then to recalibrate these electronic meters to reflect the October fare hike.
Speaking to DNA, Dr SK Sharma, principal secretary, transport said, “It is an issue that has to be seen in totality. The width of roads, traffic congestion, the population all have to be factored in before we decide on how many extra rickshaws the city can take. The endeavour has to be to get people to opt for public transport,”
Dharmesh Hingu, an Andheri resident and regular rickshaw commuter isn’t too excited about more rickshaws on the roads. “I dont think the problem is with the number, but with rickshaws refusing to ply,” said Hingu.
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