Solar Rickshaws

During my trip to India back in March, I got to experience a variety of transportation options. One of those was the auto rickshaw. I commented at the time that the efficiency of the thing had to be incredible (the previous link says 82 mpg), as it was essentially an enclosed motorcycle. That’s me sitting in one below:

Sitting in an Auto Rickshaw

Having previously converted to natural gas, this already highly efficient mode of transportation is now going solar:

India’s humble rickshaw goes solar

NEW DELHI (AFP) – It’s been touted as a solution to urban India’s traffic woes, chronic pollution and fossil fuel dependence, as well as an escape from backbreaking human toil.

A state-of-the-art, solar powered version of the humble cycle-rickshaw promises to deliver on all this and more.

The “soleckshaw,” unveiled this month in New Delhi, is a motorised cycle rickshaw that can be pedalled normally or run on a 36-volt solar battery.

Three obvious questions come to mind: How far can it travel on a charge, how many miles a day do these guys typically drive, and how long does it take to fully recharge? Or, if I want to combine them, “If I started the day fully recharged, what percentage of my day is spent pedaling?” But I only saw the answer to one of these questions:

The fully-charged solar battery will power the rickshaw for 50 to 70 kilometres (30 to 42 miles). Used batteries can be deposited at a centralised solar-powered charging station and replaced for a nominal fee.

I suppose if they are changing batteries out as needed, then it is merely a question of cost and frequency of changing the batteries.

This seems to be a very good transportation option for short trips in densely populated areas.

20 thoughts on “Solar Rickshaws”

  1. In Bangkok they have the “tuk-tuk” which looks a lot like the vehicle pictured with hero RR.
    I think we are not many years away from lithium-battery powered scooters and tuk-tuks, with pretty good range. There are battery-powered scooters on the market now (I considered buying), but they lack range and speed. The new lithium batteries seem to conquer a lot of problems.
    The commercialization of the lithium battery may mark the end of the oil era. It will be cheaper to plug it in.

  2. This is a great solution for third-world countries, if they can afford the capital cost. I expect that PV + batteries has a higher upfront cost than an IC engine.

    A very similar approach would also be a fantastic option in some of the denser urban environments of the first world. Except that they would never be adopted, or probably even allowed, because they would not be “safe” (by our standards) on a road with SUVs or even regular cars.

    This is one of the insidious manifestations of our car culture, and yet another reason why cars and cities don’t mix. Not only do the needs of the auto dictate ALL the basic parameters of modern urban design, but the presence of the auto effectively excludes other solutions, while at the same time demanding more and more space, energy, and impermeable surfaces.

    Cars are a great solution for rural/low-density areas, but they suck for cities.

  3. If the Indians make this thing work, I’m sure they’d be exporting a bunch of them to the west soon.

    The obvious change that I would suggest is to recharge the battery by pedaling/braking. That would make a great vehicle for hilly terrain.

    But not quite as efficient as “walking”.
    That’s true for overfed and overweight Americans. For a hungry Indian the benefits of walking are less obvious.

  4. Oil tanking again today. We are almost to half the peak price.
    What a turn of events.

  5. The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.

    The article talks of a cycle-rickshaw, which is essentially a human pedaled tricycle. The “soleckshaw” is a battery assisted cycle-rickshaw.

  6. Yahoo has a video of a guy that converted a Porshe 911 to an EV. It runs on 12 lead batteries. Costs 24 cents for a 50 mi. charge. He says it’s great for getting back and forth to work.

  7. “The photo is of an auto-rickshaw, which is a petrol/diesel engined vehicle.”

    I think the article made that clear.

  8. “That means consumption of OPEC’s oil would shrink by 870,000 barrels a day next year.”

    OPEC is predicting demand for OPEC oil next year (2009) will drop by 870,000 bd.

    Does anyone really think demand will recover in less than five years?

    Remember when $70 a barrel seemed skyhigh? And far, far above the marginal cost of production?

    And lithium battery vehicles are becoming commercialized?

  9. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

  10. it is good to see that economies troughout the world are acting on ALT FUELS–beyond ethanol–with gov’t support. the USA should do the same.


  11. With the world entering into a depression, and growth dramatically slowing down, will India subsidize electric or solar rickshaws?

  12. Demand has little to do with this Benny. Sure,that’s the excuse we get for declining prices,but demand was declining when oil hit $147 too. This across the board sell-off in commodities has more to do with the financial crisis sweeping the world. Big money(and small) is unwinding positions. Converting to cash,bonds,and gold. Everything else is toxic. Stocks,grains,oil….everything. To make matters worse,banks and banking institutions need cash to shore up the books. They’re cashing in everything possible. Governments around the world have shot their wad. All we can do now is watch and wait. If the world is entering another long,dark depression,oil will be the least of our concerns.

  13. In addition to the three questions posed in your piece the obvious follow on questions are “How Much?” and “Who Pays?”.

    Most cycle rickshaws in Delhi are owned by bosses and rented to pullers who work as de facto indentured servants. It’s a rather corrupt industry. Regardless, there is no way any puller, or boss for that matter, is ever going to buy a Solekshaw at it’s actual cost.

    Research elsewhere just turned up that while they are “priced at at Rs 7,000” on par with manual cycle rickshaws they are subsidized, with no mention of the actual manufacturing cost.

    Further the reason people take cycle rickshaws is because they are insanely cheap. 5-20 INR for a short trip (US $0.10-0.40). As much as I wish these Soleckshaw’s success, I have trouble believing anyone is ever going to pay enough to make these things economically viable. As I said, I was unable to find the true manufacturing cost, but please prove me wrong.

    FWIW, I believe it is primarily the safety regulations in NA and Europe that keep cycle and auto rickshaws off the streets here. In fact over the last several years there has been a growing push in Delhi to ban cycle rickshaws from major streets because of the traffic and safety hazard they pose in competition with India’s increasing number of private cars. Yes, I’d say ban the cars from urban centers, but regardless Indian’s are increasingly driving private cars, increasingly unwilling to share the road and in a hurry as always.

    To end on a good note, several of India’s cities have converted all or part of their auto rickshaw fleets to CNG (Mumbai partial, Bangalore full), this alone is a huge step forward that works economically and environmentally. CNG auto rickshaws, safety regs aside, could immediately work in NA and European cities… Imagine Manhattan with half sized taxis getting the CNG equivalent of 80+mpg.

  14. Dated Brent Spot crude now trading below $70. Way less than one-half the peak.
    Where is bottom? $40? Back to long-term norm of $30? The $10 of 1998?

    Nope. At these prices Canadian tar sands do not pay. So, if prices stay this low, a bunch of supply gets eliminated.

    And, no Maury, it is ALL demand. If demand keeps falling prices will keep dropping. Only, unlike what Benny seems to be thinking, there will be no celebrations: very low demand means a HUGE recession and a lot of misery.

    We’ll see, it all depends on the US (and hence global) economy.

  15. The “Aptera” is essentially a tuk tuk in reverse and harvests all of the efficiencies for all of the same reasons. The three wheeler has been a fixture in Italy and France for decades but never took hold in the west west. The main issues are range and climate. They suit tight, congested, low speed environments, something which has been designed out in the US and Australia. But the changing environment, fuel supply, and population densities are tipping the balance, and the Aptera (long range, aerodynamically designed, light weight, 3 wheel, extremely fuel efficient and fast, plug in electric hybride) is poised to take advantage of that balance tip.

  16. Fuel Consumption and Environmental Impact of Rickshaw Bans in Dhaka

    Most trips in Dhaka are short in distance, usually one to five kilometers. These trips are perfect of Rickshaws. Rickshaws are cheap and popular mode of transport over short distances. Rickshaws are safe, environmentally friendly and do not rely on fossil fuels. Rickshaws support a significant portion of the population, not only the pullers, but also their families in the villages, the mechanics who fix the rickshaws, as well as street hawkers who sell them food. From the raw materials to the finished product the Rickshaw employs some 38 different professions. Action needs to be taken to support the Rickshaw instead of further banning it in Dhaka. The combined profits of all Rickshaws out earn all other passenger transport modes (bus, rail, boats and airlines) combined. In Dhaka alone, Rickshaw pullers combine to earn 20 million taka a month.

    We think that over the coming holiday of Eid du Ajah, new Rickshaw bans will be put into action on roads in Dhaka. Eid was used in the past to place new bans on roads in Dhaka. Last Eid many roads were declared Rickshaw free without public support or approval. By banning Rickshaws roads are clogged with increased private car use as well as increased parking by cars. Banning of Rickshaws on major roads increases the transportation costs for commuters. Not only due to longer trips to avoid roads with bans in effect, but also due to actually having to take more expensive forms of transport such as CNG or Taxi, where in the past a Rickshaw would suffice. The environmental impact of banning Rickshaws is obvious because it exchanges a non-motorized form of transport for a motorized form of transport, thus increasing the pollution and harming the environment. Rickshaw bans harm the most vulnerable in society, mainly the sick, poor, women, children and the elderly; generally those who can not afford or do not feel comfortable on other forms of public transport. To ban Rickshaws also hurts small businesses that rely on them as a cheap and reliable form of transporting their goods. Rickshaws are ideal for urban settings because they can transport a relatively large number of passengers while taking up a small portion of the road. In 1998 the data showed that Rickshaws took up 38% of road space while transporting 54% of passengers in Dhaka . The private cars on the other hand, took up 34% of road space while only transporting 9% of the population (1998 DUTP). This data does not include the parking space on roads that cars take up in Dhaka . If included this would further raise the amount of space taken up by private cars. Every year the Rickshaw saves Bangladesh 100 billion taka in environmental damage.

    The government makes many efforts to reduce traffic congestion in Dhaka but with no success. Blaming Rickshaws for traffic congestion and subsequently banning them from major roads has not had the desired affect. Traffic is still as bad now as it was before the Rickshaws were banned on major roads. Rickshaws thus can not be seen as the major cause of traffic congestion. Instead one should look towards private cars and private car parking on roads as the major cause of traffic congestion. The space gained by banning Rickshaws is often used for private car parking. The current trend in transport planning reduces the mobility of the majority for the convenience of the minority. The next time a ban on Rickshaws on another road is discussed please take into consideration who is being hurt and who is being helped. For a better transport system in Dhaka we need to create a city wide network of Rickshaw lanes. If this is done Dhaka can reduce its fuel usage dramatically as well its pollution. We ask your help in our fight to keep Dhaka a Rickshaw city. Any information or help is very much appreciated and sought after. I write you this letter to describe the difficulties we are facing and some solutions but they are by no means exhaustive and we look forward to your help and input.

    Syed Saiful Alam
    Volunteer of
    Save Environment Movement

  17. Economic and other impact of ban on NMT pullers

    The HDRC study found various impacts on NMT pullers (rickshaws, vans and handcarts)
    when comparing their situation before and after the ban. These include:

    1. Average monthly net income of rickshaw pullers decreased by 32%, from3,834 to 2,600 taka (see Table 1 and Figure 1 below). Overall, income forNMT pullers declined by 34%.

    2. The amount of money sent back to their villages also declined following theban. Before the ban, on average rickshaw pullers spent 64% of net incomeand sent the rest (36%) to his village. Following the ban, the amount spent inDhaka decreased by 27%, while the amount sent to the village decreased by41%. Similar patterns follow for other NMT pullers (see Table 1 and Figure2).

    3. Pullers compensated for loss of income by reducing food consumption,particularly of fish, meat, and cooking oil: for NMT pullers overall, 85.9%decreased their consumption of fish, 87.5% decreased consumption of meat,65.1% decreased consumption of cooking oil, and over half (55.3%) decreasedconsumption of vegetables.

    4. There was an increase in the number of income earners in the family from 1.24to 1.37. This suggests that some children have been taken out of school tocompensate for lost income, or that the burden on wives of the pullers havefurther increased as they must earn money as well as do all the family andhousehold labor.

    5. Average number of working days per month for NMT pullers increased by1.1 days (from 23.67 to 24.78 days a month), and for rickshaw pullers by 1.3days (from 23.18 to 24.44 days a month).

    6. Average number of working hours per day also increased, from 10.33 to 10.97hours overall, and from 10.16 to 10.70 for rickshaw pullers.

    7. More rickshaw pullers worked full-day than half-day shifts: 60.5% after theban, and 56.7% prior to the ban; the figures overall were 65.1% after the banand 61.5% prior to it.

    8. Only about 5% of pullers reported a second income, and that second incomewas insufficient to compensate for the loss of income from the ban.

    9. Almost all the pullers (81.6% overall) were affected by loss of income; 86.1%of van pullers reported decreased income.

    10. Although HDRC recommends training in driving of MT for displaced pullers,only 1.6% of pullers overall suggest that they be provided MT driver training,while 55.9% asked for alternative rehabilitation and 31.6% suggestedconstruction of special lanes for NMT. Similarly, while only 6% wanted analternative profession in MT, 36% would like to take on petty trading, 27%return to agriculture, and 23% take on day labour.411. Only 4% of pullers supported NMT withdrawal on other major arterial roads;fears expressed by them included hardship for the pullers and their families,and concern that the move would lead to further deterioration of the law andorder situation in the country in general and Dhaka in particular.

    source: Improving Dhaka’s Traffic Situation:Lessons from Mirpur Road

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