City autos will soon go green with an upgrade

Who can resist a raise from two to four? Add a green tag and you have a winner. Going green has got a new paradigm in Madurai City with autorickshaws joining in. All they are going to do is to replace their two-stroke engine with four-stroke ones. In that one stroke, they will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and noise.

DHAN Foundation and Three Wheels United, Bangalore, are replacing engines to reduce emission level by 40 per cent. As most drivers would not be able to afford to replace the engines at a cost of anything between Rs.4000 and Rs.8000, the organizations also plan to extend credit support to drivers.

“Depending upon the usage and life of the machines, the conversion cost would differ,” says Akila Devi, regional coordinator. “We have planned to organise awareness programmes, extend credit facilities and ensure social security measures like insurance for both the vehicle and drivers and renewal of fitness certificates.”

She adds, “This concept concentrates on two aspects – contribution to climate change and fuel efficiency.”

Karuppiah, whose auto is the first to have been converted from two-stroke to four-stroke engine under the project, is happy to be a part of the green movement.

Lauding the organisers for the initiative, driver Krishnan of Thanthai Periyar Auto Stand says the city has only a few hundred four-stroke autos, which are six months old. Otherwise, it is filled only with two strokes. “We believe that two stroke saves us more earnings,” he says.

Driver Guna feels that the city has very few four-stroke engine mechanics. M.P. Vasimalai, Executive Director, DHAN, says that DHAN will identify mechanics and give special and enhanced training in four-stroke engine mechanism.

Stef Van Dongen of Enviu Foundation, The Netherlands, who launched the project earlier, handed over a cheque for Rs. 4000 to Karuppiah. Van Dongen says that this initiative is sure to lessen pollution levels considerably as the autos contribute to 10 per cent of the concentration of particulate matter smaller than 10 microns. Autorickshaws running on two-stroke engines are a major contributor of these emissions.

Van Dongen launched the Three Wheels United during a visit to Bangalore. As his major mode of transport was auto, his friendly chat with auto drivers kept him thinking that he should do something of use to them. “They believe they are ambassadors of the country because foreigners meet these people as soon as they enter any city,” he says. “No auto driver wants to stay in the profession.”

“There are 5 million autorickshaw drivers in India. About 20 million lives are dependent on these drivers’ income, which is a paltry 3 dollars per driver per day,” he says. The poor driver has no access to banks, no savings, and no social security. He does not even own his autorickshaw in his lifetime and is in a vicious cycle of exploitation. He makes matters worse for himself by venting his frustration on the commuter and he is perceived as a menace.

“We wanted to help them not only to earn enough money but also to gain a reputation,” says Van Dongen. “Hence we gave fair loans, advertisement space in the auto and autos on call in Bangalore and Bagipalli.” He adds, “On top of that, we wanted to improve the quality of lives of drivers and also create environmental impact.”

Now, Three Wheels United is working on an upgraded four-stroke engine that would further reduce pollution levels. Van Dongen says, “Next we aim at plying electric and battery-operated autos, which are totally emission-free.”