As the Delhi government grapples with ways and means to curb pollution in the Capital, entrepreneurs are entering the fray, launching eco-friendly commuting options.

Smart-E or Smart Electric Transport System, an e-rickshaw solution that hopes to solve the last-mile connectivity issues of Delhi Metro users, is one.

Piloted in West Delhi’s Paschim Vihar neighbourhood, the Smart-E vehicles, which can seat four people, run on a ride-share model and provide feeder services to passengers travelling to and from Metro stations.

When Delhi Metro did a survey to find out how people arrived at stations, it found that barely 1.5 per cent of its 3 million daily users came on vehicles and parked them at stations. “While the metro covers a vast distance, first- and last-mile connectivity to the stations remains a problem,” says Manjul Kumar, General Manager, Operations, Smart-E. That prompted a bunch of MNC executives to band together and launch Smart-E. While Delhi has had e-rickshaws, these have mostly operated in an unorganised way. In fact, many went off the road after a High Court order though some are back after the Motor Vehicles Act was amended to let them ply with requisite licences.

Smart-E claims to be different as it is the first organised model for e-rickshaws, begun after consultations with Delhi Metro officials and the Delhi Traffic Police.

These electric vehicles, custom-manufactured in Sonepat, are equipped with GPS and even CCTVs, addressing the issue of women’s safety.

Women drivers

In fact, at Paschim Vihar most of the e-rickshaws have women drivers, drawn from neighbouring villages.

Shahnaz, a mother of six living in Mongolpuri, now earns anywhere between ₹300-₹500 plying the e-rick, which she bought with a loan from Bharatiya Mahila Bank, facilitated by the company. She says that even after giving the operators the commission, she takes home more than she earned in her earlier factory job.

But as the service scales up, the promoters say it’s not sustainable to run with women drivers alone. Although the women are enthusiastic and eager to be trained, there are challenges such as long hours on the road.

Smart-E will expand to Gurgaon next with 50 e-rickshaws. In Delhi, Malviya Nagar has been identified as the next locality where it will ply. By September, the company hopes to have a thousand e-vehicles on the road.

The Smart-E model is a hybrid between Meru and Uber. The company does not own the asset. Instead loans are arranged for the e-rickshaw drivers to buy the vehicle and an operating commission charged that takes care of infrastructure issues such as dedicated parking and charging stations for the vehicles, as well as help with licensing of vehicles.

“Soon, there will be a fully functional app that will connect a driver with a customer,” says Kumar. This will allow a passenger to book a Smart-E to her home just before she gets off at the station. The fare is ₹10 for a shared ride.

If the model succeeds, the promoters hope to scale up by taking it to the six States where metro rail projects are coming up.