Dealing with rick pollution

A Dutch traveller in Bangalore, alarmed by the noise and air pollution by the auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuk as foreigners call it), established Three Wheels United (TWU) in the year 2006.

Today, it is led by a small group of extremely qualified persons who gave up very good jobs they were already in, with a vision to bring positive change in the society. Although TWU was born with a primary aim of reducing the pollution caused by auto-rickshaws, the founders soon realised that mere environmental approach would not help solve the pollution problem, rather a holistic approach involving social and economic aspects of auto-rickshaw drivers is required because the pollution due to auto-rickshaws is interwoven with the social and economic conditions of its drivers.

In Bangalore, most of the auto-rickshaws are noisy and polluting two-stroke vehicles and the drivers are known for their rudeness towards customers. But, what the public fails to realise is, a driver’s behaviour is a result of his own frustrations in life. On an average he earns Rs 600 in a day, but given the fuel charges and rentals (many of them hire auto-rickshaws from fleet owners), at the end of the day he carries home only Rs 150 which does not match with the increasing cost of living in Bangalore.

Namma Auto

TWU with its three-way approach is attempting to address the socio-economic conditions of drivers and thereby ensuring a shift to cleaner four-stoke vehicles. All the beneficiaries under the scheme of TWU would be given an identification of Namma Auto which literally translates as our auto.

Under financial approach, the drivers are made to open an SB and RD account, and loans are provided by either Corporation Bank or Pragati Gramin Bank after TWU introduces them to the bank and provides their KYC details. Once an auto-rickshaw starts generating revenue, instead of paying rent to the fleet owner, the driver pays Rs 200 per day to the bank of which Rs 170 is considered towards loan repayment, Rs 15 is credited to his RD account, and Rs 15 is paid to TWU as service charges. With in a few years he will be able to own the vehicle and the approach motivates them towards saving.

Through business building approach TWU identifies the beneficiary through multiple interactive meetings and beneficiaries are asked to form groups of five members in which, each one becomes responsible for the loan repayment of the other members. However to be a beneficiary of this scheme, a driver has to provide 15 per cent of the vehicle cost (approximately Rs 22,000) as down payment to prove his commitment.

In order to assist him in this payment, TWU has a sustainable plan — once a driver comes in contact with TWU expressing interest to join the scheme, he is motivated towards saving. Through technological approach in order to facilitate easy payment, TWU has tied up with Airtel to introduce mobile payment system wherein customers can pay through Airtel money. The drivers are equipped to add Airtel currency to passengers’ mobile phones and Airtel wallet, and in addition passengers can also pay using credit/ debit cards in auto-rickshaws.

Every beneficiary of this scheme is insured for life, health and accident for which ING insurance company sponsors the first year premium. From second year onwards, payment of the insurance premium is met from the revenue generated from advertisements displayed on auto-rickshaws. Life skill training for drivers in terms of etiquette, dressing, mannerisms, and following traffic rules are provided to in order to make passengers’ journey more pleasant.

There are already 120 non-polluting Namma Autos plying on the roads. When asked about the reason to join such an unconventional business, the response from the CEO, Ramesh Prabhu was- “What if this opportunity never came again? If we lose it today, we will regret it tomorrow.  Someone else would have had the credit!” The greatest satisfaction that employees of TWU are looking forward to is, to see the positive impact of their action on at least a few families of auto-rickshaw drivers and thereby see the reduced pollution.

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