Dr. Anil K. Rajvanshi, Director
Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI),
P.O. Box 44, Tambmal, Phaltan-415523 , Maharashtra, INDIA
e-mail: nariphaltan@gmail.com



Most of the cities in developing countries are highly polluted. The main reasons are the air and noise pollution caused by transport vehicles especially petrol and diesel powered two and three wheelers mostly called autorickshaws. An electric cycle rickshaw can provide a non-polluting and a very silent transport system for urban and rural areas of India. We have developed three types of rickshaws a) Improved pedal cycle rickshaw (IPCR); b) Motor assisted pedal rickshaw (MAPR); and c) a completely battery driven rickshaw called ELECSHATM . The details of these rickshaws are presented in this paper. It is shown that these rickshaws can provide a very environmentally friendly, energy efficient and cost effective transport system and can replace the existing autorickshaws. Economic analysis of these rickshaws is presented and policy issues are identified. Besides reducing pollution these rickshaws can provide large-scale employment in urban and rural areas of India.


Most of the cities in developing countries are highly polluted. The main reasons are the air and noise pollution caused by transport vehicles, especially petrol-powered two and three-wheelers. For example, in India there are close to 18 million petrol powered two wheelers and about 1.5 million petrol and diesel powered three wheelers and their population is growing at a healthy rate of about 15% per annum. Besides being a major hazard to peopleís health, these machines are guzzling huge amounts of petrol and diesel for which the country has to pay dearly in foreign exchange outflow. In fact it is a common sight in developing countries that during traffic jams in congested areas of cities these vehicles produce tremendous pollution.

An electric cycle rickshaw can provide a non-polluting and a very silent transport system for urban and rural areas of India. Besides it is a very energy efficient and cost effective vehicle. Work done at our Institute has shown that improved cycle rickshaws powered by electric motor and batteries have a potential to provide an attractive alternative to petrol and diesel powered three wheelers. Besides they can also provide large-scale employment and extra income to the rickshaw puller.


There are guesstimates that close to 1 million cycle rickshaws ply the Indian roads carrying about 3-4 billion passenger-km/year . In some cities they are the major means of transport. They provide employment to more than 1 million rickshaw pullers, are very maneuverable and are completely non-polluting and hence environmentally friendly means of transport. It is very unfortunate that deliberate policies in most of the urban towns of developing countries have been made by the concerned authorities to phase out these rickshaws. These non-polluting vehicles are being replaced by polluting (both air and noisewise) petrol and diesel powered three wheelers. Our data show that three wheeler diesel tempos in Lucknow city (capital of Uttar Pradesh) produce close to 70-80 decibel noise at a distance of 1-2 m, besides belching out huge amounts of particulates into the air .

Nevertheless the existing rickshaws are very poorly designed so that it takes a heavy toll on the health of a rickshaw puller. The existing cycle rickshaw has hardly changed since it was introduced in 1930ís and 40ís in India. The gearing and the mechanical advantage of the pedal is very poor. Hence the rickshaw puller has to work very hard while climbing even a slight slope. A common sight is of rickshaw puller getting down and pulling on foot the rickshaw with passengers. The braking system is also very poor with only front brakes on the rickshaw. Thus when going downhill at high speeds sudden braking produces a catapult effect. Similarly the seating arrangement is very uncomfortable and the aerodynamic drag of the system is very high. It is therefore humanly degrading to pull the existing inefficient cycle rickshaw. Yet because of poverty, laborers do become rickshaw pullers and suffer adverse consequences to their health. The rickshaw manufacturing presently is a footpath industry with no quality control and there are as many rickshaw designs as cities in which they ply. These rickshaws are so poorly made that they have to be replaced completely in a couple of years. Thus there is a need to improve the existing rickshaw and bring quality control in its manufacture.

Our Institute has therefore designed and developed three types of rickshaws :

1) Improved pedal cycle rickshaw.

2) Motor assisted pedal cycle rickshaw.

3) Completely battery driven rickshaw  called ELECSHA.

Below are given the details of the work done :

Fig 1. NARI Improved Pedal Cycle Rickshaw ( IPCR )


Our data from urban towns of India has also shown that lots of rickshaw pullers are migrant laborers from villages and have sometimes only rickshaw as their sole possession. Hence at night when they sleep, they sometimes do so on the cramped seat of the rickshaw for the fear of it being stolen. Our new design allows the seats to be arranged in such a way that a long bed results which allows a rickshaw puller to sleep properly without the fear of his rickshaw being stolen at night.

The cost of this rickshaw is estimated to be Rs. 8000/- (1 US $ º Rs. 47) in mass production and compares very well with Rs. 4000-5000/- which is the cost of existing regular rickshaws.

Consequently calculations showed that a 0.375 kW PMDC motor with 24 V and 40 A-hr lead acid battery could easily take 2 passengers on a 10% slope at a speed of 10 km/hr without the rickshaw puller getting down from his seat. This is a major step, which can assist him during rickshaw pulling.

A simple strategy has been employed in this rickshaw. A manual contact switch allows the rickshaw puller to switch the motor on or off depending upon his convenience and load. Thus the gearing is arranged such that pedal and motor work in tandem to ease the load on rickshaw puller. A current overload switch cuts off the circuit when motor draws more than predetermined current. However the rickshaw puller has to continuously pedal and thus it is a motor assisted pedal rickshaw (MAPR). The weight of this rickshaw (including batteries) is 129 Kg. MAPR can easily go to 40-45 kms distance in one battery charge

The cost of this rickshaw is envisaged to be Rs. 20,000/- in mass production. The price includes rickshaw, PMDC motor, battery and battery charger. Fig. 2 shows this rickshaw. For both IPCR and MAPR patents have been filed.

Fig 2. NARI Motor Assisted Pedal Rickshaw ( MAPR )


Consequently an electric cycle rickshaw has been designed and built. It has been patented and registered as ELECSHA. Till today it has logged more than 6000 km in test runs. It runs on 36 V, 100 A-hr lead acid batteries which power a 1.3 kW PMDC motor. An electronic card soft starts ELECSHA and also has a specially designed 3-speed gearbox. Figure 3 shows the ELECSHA. It is estimated to cost about Rs. 90,000/- in mass production and compares very favorably with the cost of petrol and diesel powered three wheelers which are priced in some cities between Rs. 75,000-1,00,000/- respectively. Efforts are on to further improve its design so that it becomes lightweight and easy to drive. This can also help it to become a low cost personal vehicle for middle class families.




We plan to introduce these rickshaws in the cities of Lucknow and Pune where maximum number of cycle rickshaws and autorickshaws respectively ply in the country. The comparison of electric rickshaws and autorickshaws can only take place once ELECSHA starts plying in actual conditions. However based upon existing data a simple economic analysis can be done.

  1. IPCR : Discussions with rickshaw puller in various cities reveal that they ply the rickshaws to a maximum of 25-30 km/day. During hot season (which is majority time of the year) they can only go to 15-20 km/day. On an average they charge Rs. 3-5/km. Hence they can make between Rs. 75--125/day. After giving Rs. 15/day as rickshaw hiring charges they can earn about Rs. 60-110/day. Data on our rickshaw has shown that with gears the rickshaw puller can easily go about 30-40 km/day. This can easily increase his earnings substantially.
  2. Presently most of the rickshaw pullers run the rickshaw on daily hire basis. They give the rickshaw owner Rs. 15/day as hiring charges. Generally the owners have a fleet of 50-100 rickshaws. We are working on the concept of setting up a rickshaw pullers' cooperative society in one or two cities so that the banks can give loans to the society for rickshaw pullers to own their rickshaw. Ownership will help them maintain the rickshaw and also help them earn much more money after the loan is repaid.

    Our data also show that because of tremendous fatigue after driving the existing inefficient rickshaws in hot season, large number of rickshaw pullers drink heavily to forget this fatigue. This results further in their getting into ever-increasing spiral of poverty. IPCR can hopefully help in reducing their fatigue.

  3. MAPR : In this case our data has shown that a rickshaw puller can easily pedal 50 km/day and in some tests he has also gone to 70 km/day in 2 shifts. Thus with the cost of MAPR at Rs. 17,000 he can earn at least Rs. 150/day (by charging Rs. 3/km). If rickshaw owner charges Rs. 40/day as hiring charges (the puller will get at least Rs. 110/day as net income) then the owner will be able to repay the rickshaw loan in 5 years. He will also at the same time earn a profit of about Rs. 4,600/year for 10 years on each rickshaw. This includes battery replacement cost every 3rd year and 15% interest on loan.
  4. ELECSHA : The ELECSHA owner can make a net profit of Rs. 25,400/year for 10 years continuously. This requires that the fare will be Rs. 3.50/km and that the rickshaw will go to 70 km/day. Other assumptions are :

        a) Driver will be paid Rs. 75/day.
        b)ELECSHA will run for 300 days/year.
        c) Battery replacement cost is Rs. 15,000 and it will be replaced every alternate year.
        d) Interest is 15% p.a. and loan has to be paid back in 5 years.
        e) The electricity cost is Rs. 5/kWhr.

Presently the petrol autorickshaws charge Rs. 4.50/km and hence even with the reduced fare for ELECSHA the owner can make a good profit. This is because of the low running cost of ELECSHA. Thus it seems that for both rickshaw puller and owner it is economically viable to ply these rickshaws.


  1. Battery and its charging : One of the major issues facing large scale electric vehicles introduction is the issue of batteries. With the present level of technology development most of the batteries used are lead acid batteries. Deep discharge lead acid batteries are presently imported in India and are very heavy. The issue of battery charging can be tackled in two ways :
  1. Having an onboard charger and plugging it in any electrical outlet : This concept has been used in most of the electric vehicles. This concept can be attractive for private owners of ELECSHA. However the disadvantage of this method is that it increases the cost of ELECSHA since charger will be a part of it.

b) Developing a network of battery charging stations : In this concept it is envisaged that the battery charging station will take out the discharged batteries from ELECSHA and put in a set of charged ones. The advantages of this concept are that one does not need to worry about charging and the battery could be of lower capacity and hence lightweight, which in turn will improve the performance of the vehicle. Also the regular automotive batteries can be used which can be discharged to only 50% depth. At the same time no extra cost of charger is incurred. This concept will be very useful for rickshaws being used as taxies. Nevertheless, the issues of old vs. new batteries and the economic viability of charging stations will have to be sorted out.

For MAPR the rickshaw puller can easily pedal even when the batteries are fully discharged and can therefore bring the MAPR to a charging station or to his home for overnight charging.

The electricity to power these batteries can come from any renewable power plants like biomass, solar, wind etc. In fact it can be envisaged to have battery-charging stations powered by PV units. Hence these rickshaws can truly be called as renewable energy transport system. To convert all existing 1 million rickshaws in India into electric rickshaws will require only one 600 MW power plant to run them.

It is also instructive to look at the energy efficiency of electric rickshaw vis-a-vis petrol powered autorickshaws. From power-plant to traction-energy point of view ELECSHA consumes 110 Whr/passenger-km as compared to 175 Whr/passenger-km consumed by petrol autorickshaws. In this calculation the following assumption were used :


i) Electric power plant efficiency including T & D losses = 0.255

ii) Charging / discharging efficiency of batteries = 0.64

iii) It takes 2 passenger 80 km per charge

b) Petrol autorickshaw :

        i) Average mileage = 25 km / l of petrol

        ii) Calorific value of petrol 8.74 kWh / l.

Thus ELECSHA uses 60% less energy than petrol autorickshaw. Besides being environmentally friendly ELECSHA is also very efficient energy wise.

We also feel that small systems like rickshaws are most suited for electric vehicle development. This is because the present level of battery technology precludes large power output from light weight batteries. Hence, the electric rickshaw can be easily designed with the existing motor and battery technology.

2. Policy Issues : There is a need for a policy decision on part of developing countriesí governments to permit only improved cycle rickshaws and electric rickshaws in congested areas of inner cities. This will help in reducing pollution, provide a clean sustainable transport system and provide employment. Already courts have banned three wheeled diesel tempos from certain parts of Lucknow. Electric and improved rickshaws can provide an attractive alternative to help this order.

There is also a need for the Government to enact legislation such that banks can provide lower interest loans to the rickshaw owners. Since this is a renewable energy system, hence it should get all the benefits presently available to these systems.

Besides creating a non-polluting transport system in India, electric rickshaws will also provide dignity to rickshaw pullers. Presently rickshaw pullers are treated as belonging to the lowest rung of the society. Large number of rickshaw pullers told us that a motorized rickshaw will give them dignity. It is felt that the police and the people in general treat the motorized transport drivers with slightly more respect. Besides giving dignity, electric rickshaws can also provide extra income to the rickshaw puller since he can ply his rickshaw to greater distances in one day.


In developing countries most of the cities are very congested with narrow roads. Because of historical reasons these roads cannot be broadened. For such roads non-polluting vehicles like IPCR, MAPR etc. as described in this article can provide a very attractive transport system. With enlightened Government policies of allowing only such vehicles in these areas, the cities of developing countries can become pollution free and livable. Besides such vehicles can also be a boon for small towns which have started introducing polluting vehicles like the existing autorickshaws.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Grants from E&Co, New Jersey and Ministry of Non- conventional Energy Sources, New Delhi is gratefully acknowledged.

Printed in May 2001