“This is even more evidence of the clear link between vehicle pollution and respiratory illness. We must do everything we can to take high-polluting vehicles off the road.”

— Charlene Zettel

Having spent most of his schooling years at a residential school in Coonoor in the Nilgiris, Sivaraj Muthuraman did not want to stay in the campus hostel when he joined BBA at Loyola College in Chennai. He and his friends rented a house and enjoyed their newfound freedom by exploring the city and nearby places on their modified Pulsar 180 bikes. “I spent about rupees two lakhs in modifying my bike. All my friends were so crazy about our bikes and loved to go on long rides. We went around the city so much that I know every nook and corner of Chennai,” says the 28-year-old innovator of ‘eco-cab’, which is a modified cycle rickshaw that can be pedaled as well as run on solar and electric energy. It was his passion for bikes and his interest in modifying them that made him to attempt a bold innovation later on in life.

Hailing from Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu where his family is into garment export business, Sivaraj was not lured by lucrative offers of jobs in Multinational companies. He chose to listen to his heart and work on finding a solution to the menace of ever increasing pollution and spiraling fuel prices. With business in his genes, it is not surprising that Sivaraj is brimming with ideas

eco friendly cab

It has been about three years now since he built his first prototype of the eco cab, which was an improvised cycle rickshaw. It was not a solar or electric powered vehicle then. “I purchased a cycle rickshaw for Rs.9000 in Chennai and took it to Salem, where with the help of few welders we fabricated the first eco-cab. I wanted to ply it on the city roads as a free transportation service,” says Sivaraj, who holds an MBA from Heriott Watt University, Singapore campus. Unlike the majority of management graduates who are lured by lucrative jobs in multinational companies, Shivraj chose to follow his heart. His concern for the growing pollution coupled with the ever increasing prices of fuel led him to explore for a solution. While he wanted to promote an eco-friendly public transport, he had also devised a business model as he proposed to make money from displaying advertisements on the vehicle. “There is definitely a social cause to the eco cab, but remember I am a marketing guy basically,” he says light heartedly, making sure he would not be projected as some kind of a social hero.

The first prototype was built with lot of steel pipes and a fiber body. Later, he upgraded it making it run on solar and electric power. He cut down on the use of steel pipes too in the later versions, which reduced the weight of the vehicle considerably. The current version, two of which run on a small stretch between Marina Beach and Santhome, can touch a maximum speed of 35 km/h and run for about 60 km on a single charge. He introduced the pedal model eco-cabs in Beijing, Dublin and Toronto, but the concept failed to take off there as salaries for the drivers were too high and did not match with the revenue generated through advertisements.

This invention entered the India Book of Records under the Science and Technology Category.Vivek Raja, adjudicator, India Book of Records, said, “If we can control the process of burning fuel, pollution can be brought down drastically. Such inventions go a long way in controlling the greenhouse gas effect. Sivaraj’s invention, hence, is laudable.” Dr Manoj Beno, Medical Director, Billroth Hospital, was also present on the occasion. Eco Free Cab which is operating in Ireland, Canada & China, and now stepping into India.  It is a modified cycle rickshaw and aims to encourage people to use Go Green vehicles

Presenting the certificate Mr. Vivek Raja, Adjudicator, India Book of Records stated that, “The world of today is desperately trying to evade the ongoing struggle with the “Greenhouse effect”.  What this world really requires is a revolution which can reduce pollution and create a toxic free environment for the next generation. If we speak about pollution, then the burning fuel from the automobiles is the major cause of it. If we can take control of at least this pollution creator, then we can reduce the level of daily pollution by 5%in every month which means 60% a year.  When more and more countries around the world are turning their heads towards green vehicles, India is not lagging behind. We are glad to acknowledge this brilliant and a noble initiative which has been taken by Mr. Sivaraj, a true citizen of India”.

When asked about the thought process which led to this innovation, Sivaraj said, “About two-and-half years ago, I felt that someone must breathe life into the rickshaw. It was then that I took this up as a project. Rickshaw-wallahs, if you notice, have more or less disappeared. They must be provided training on how to use the vehicle and be provided with a means of livelihood. “Explaining the difference between the Eco Free Cab and other hybrid and battery-operated vehicles, Sivaraj said, “Conventional battery-operated vehicles are expensive, even costing to up to Rs 4 lakh. In comparison, an Eco Free Cab would cost only about Rs 80,000. Thus, the vehicles are cost-effective and are of low maintenance.”

This rickshaw is a solar powered vehicle that can run for 150 kilometers if it’s charged for 3 hours under the sun, thanks to its solar panels situated on the roof and it can run up for a maximum speed of 45 kilometers per hour. This is a really light vehicle so in case the battery goes down in the middle of the course you can always pedal, that’s one of the added advantages of the vehicle. The cab, which runs on solar energy, will be the first eco friendly cab service in India. The vehicle, has a seating capacity up  to three persons including the driver, will provide services to the disabled, school and university students and other people travelling a distance up to 2 km. “It also aims to encourage people to use Go Green vehicles in India”. Some tests were made on classic rickshaw drivers and their reactions were that it was really easy to handle, that it was quiet and smooth. Some even said that their arms didn’t ache at the end of the day as they usually do after a long day of hard work.

As the biggest challenge that he faced with the project, Sivaraj cites lack of public encouragement. “My neighbors were baffled when they saw a prototype of my product in our parking lot. People thought I had gone mad,” he remembered. “Soon, it turned into curiosity, with people wanting to take photographs sitting in it!” The Eco Free Cab will look to raise funds through cover advertisements, informed Sivaraj. “As far as corporate sponsors are concerned, Videocon has indicated interest. However, now, we would like to focus on finishing the product development and market it in about eight months,”

In Chennai, the drivers are paid Rs.7000 per month. They ply the vehicle from 8 am to 5.30 pm with a three hour break in between. An international fashion institute, whose sales and marketing division he heads in Chennai, has taken the advertising space on the two eco cabs currently plying in the city. But it has not been a smooth ride for the drivers of the eco cabs. Sivaraj says the traffic cops sometimes stop the vehicles on the road and harass the drivers. “They ask all kinds of silly questions hoping to extract some money,” he says. Sivaraj says that the vehicle neither requires any registration nor do the drivers need a license to drive it.

Sivaraj says he has plans to develop a commercial model of the eco cab, which he estimates might be priced around Rs.1.5 lakhs at current manufacturing costs. Hats off to this young hero who  is not only  saving the environment but also  providing an alternative to increasing prices of petroleum products.