Friday, November 26, 2004

An Ode to the Auto Rickshaw

If you thought that the autorickshaw was an inefficient, noisy and inconvenient mode of transportation, think again. If a recent report in The Hindu were to be believed, it has been recognized as a symbol of energy efficiency by a London based Museum. This fact will make you think a while. An auto rickshaw? Efficiency? No way!

But the numbers are in. The results are out. Auto Rickshaws (which can take upto four passengers besides the driver) can give you upto 33 kmpl, a figure that can put the vehicle that epitomizes energy efficiency in the 'developed world', the hybrid Toyota Prius (23kmpl) to utter shame. Perhaps it is time we started going around in these things - we could save a lot of oil imports that way!

What we see in most cars (not just the Prius) is gross over-design. The modest auto rickshaw stumbles along the street with a measly 8.17 BHP. The majestic Prius, on the other hand, zooms along the road with 65BHP, which is still pretty weak compared with SUVs and other inefficient monsters that rule the roads. The auto rickshaw can cruise along city roads at reasonably high speeds (~60kmph) stuffed to the brim, often with more than 6 passengers, and can still yield respectable efficiencies. Why do we need 65BHP when we can do with 8.17 BHP?

The Prius is a vehicle, undoubtedly designed by professionals in the laboratory using sophisticated streamlining techniques. The ubiquitous auto rickshaw, on the other hand, is just a working design, and aerodynamics is something that its designers have never heard of. It looks ugly, it makes an irritating noise and is often driven by a intoxicated cabbie with a fascination for the rapid. The auto rickshaw, being as crude as it is, lends itself to further refinement. Soon shall come a day (with the oil prices on the ascent as they perpetually seem to be), that shall see the arrival of designer auto rickshaws into the market. Maybe you and I could own one.

The auto rickshaw is the most reliable form of transport in the city. It is narrow enough to fit into gaps that cars such as the Prius could never fit into. It can do speeds which are comparable to the maximum permissible speeds on Indian roads. Middle class India survives on these. It becomes the ideal vehicle to take the family to a night in a restaurant. And it is the best choice to get to the station.

And what's wrong with it? Detractors will point out that it pollutes. Well, look at it this way, there are four stroke models available (with equal efficiency). And consider this - with efficiencies of 33 kmpl, a round trip on an auto shall release less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a round trip in a car - say a Prius.

Perhaps the only thing disagreeable with an autorickshaw is that customary haggle with the driver regarding the fare.

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