Free Magazine Boosts Income for Rickshaw Drivers

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


In the bustling, congested cities of Asia, rickshaws and auto-rickshaws are common forms of transport. Smaller, cheaper and more nimble than cars, they play a key role in the transit infrastructure, helping to get people to work and to get around.

According to a report by the World Resources Institute ( and EMBARQ – a global network of experts on sustainable transport solutions – India’s auto rickshaws are “an increasingly important part of urban transport in cities.”

The report estimates the number of auto rickshaws at between 15,000 and 30,000 in medium-sized cities and over 50,000 in large cities. The report found they make up between 10 and 20 per cent of daily motorized road transport trips for people in Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Rajkot.

And it’s not just the economic role played in transporting people: auto rickshaws are made in India and their production there doubled between 2003 and 2010, making them a source of manufacturing jobs too.

As India’s cities continue to grow – estimates forecast urban populations surging from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million by 2030 – auto rickshaws could have a bright future as they remain an affordable and safe transport solution.

The monthly magazine Meter Down ( – launched in 2010 – is targeting the large captive audience of Mumbai’s rickshaw passengers with news and advertising. It is modelled on the familiar free newspapers found in cities around the world. Usually, these newspapers are distributed at subway and metro stations or in metal boxes at bus stops. Meter Down takes a different twist on this concept, distributing the publication directly to rickshaw passengers.

Mumbai is a crowded and very busy Indian city with an estimated 14 million people. Many residents spend a lot of time commuting – and a lot of time stuck in traffic jams. They need something to occupy them and to keep them informed about the news. This also presents a significant opportunity for businesses to communicate messages and advertising products and services.

Founded by three university graduates, Meter Down is trying to reach young professionals with a bit of money who can afford to ride to work in auto rickshaws.

It is distributed through 7,000 auto rickshaws in Mumbai, according to The Guardian newspaper, and is also being distributed in Pune and Ahmedabad.

The clever bit is the incentive for the drivers to carry the magazine: they receive 35 to 40 per cent of the profit from advertising sales.

This is added to the 400 to 500 rupees they make in a normal shift, according to the Mumbai Autorickshawmen’s Union.

But isn’t it a challenge to read a printed publication while bouncing along the road? The publishers came up with a solution: no story is to be longer than 300 words and the magazine has many large-size photographs to make it visually appealing and easy on the eye. Then there is the issue of passengers leaving with a copy of the magazine, denying the next passenger their read. The solution they came up for this is to tie the magazine to the rickshaw.

One of the biggest problems for any new start-up publication is how to scale up and reach more readers. Meter Down cleverly has the mechanism to scale built into its business model: “The market for this is as big as the total number of auto-rickshaws in each city,” Dedhia told The Guardian. “We have successfully scaled the model and tweak it as per different specific needs. Since auto-rickshaws are present in every part of the country, we can expand the network everywhere.”

Meter Down’s founders estimate that each rickshaw makes 90 to 95 trips every day. They have calculated this leads to a potential readership of 600,000 people. To increase revenue sources, the magazine also sells advertising space on the back and inside of the rickshaws.

For people in wealthier countries, rickshaws may seem like a rough way to get to work, but they are actually, for Indians, the more expensive option. A three-mile ride in Mumbai costs 68 rupees (US $1.27), according to The Guardian, which is 10 times the cost of a second-class train ticket.

For Meter Down, this means targeting the magazine and the ads at a market of readers with money and a willingness to buy products and services. It looks like things could be on the up for Meter Down!

Published: September 2012


1) Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-Rickshaw Sector.

2) A fleet of auto rickshaws for sale from Bajaj. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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Traffic Signs Bring Safety To The Streets

By David South, UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (Blue Sky Bulletin, Issue Number 6, May/June 1998)

Cars, mostly olive green Russian jeeps, weave in and out of the five-storey apartment blocks of downtown Dalanzadgad. Running through the centre of the capital of Omnogobi is a gardened boulevard, where families hide from the hot sun under trees.

That one road, and the few feeding into it, are the only enforced guides for drivers. It can be seen across Mongolia – settlements crisis-crossed by drivers looking for the shortest route to their destination. It doesn’t help that there are no natural or manmade barriers to prevent drivers going their own way.

In Dalanzadgad, a UNDP project to protect the environment from off-road driving has had an unexpected outcome: it has galvanized the community to make the streets safer by adding over 100 traffic signs. The project “Soil and Road” under UNDP’s Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP), started modestly. According to project director and local Khural head Mr. Byambasuren, the number of vehicles in the area shot up from 800 three years ago, to 1,500 today. Most of these vehicles drive off-road, kicking up dust and destroying flora, contributing to desertification.

“The disease rate here is very high because of the dust and we have many traffic accidents involving children,” says Byambasuren.

With a small grant of Tg 2.5 million from EPAP the project was able to organize workshops for local drivers where they signed a contract to not drive off-road, facing stiff penalties from the traffic police if caught.

A media campaign was also organized and posters and brochures distributed. The local traffic police were so impressed by the project they decided to chip in a further Tg 2 million to construct traffic signs and install concrete calming barriers.

At first they explored the possibility of buying ready-made signs but found the costs too prohibitive.

“We wanted to get signs that glowed at night but they were too expensive. We decided to make our own out of old oil drums.”

In a room thick with the smell of fresh paint sits the traffic signs. They all use internationally recognized symbols and only upon closer inspection, reveal their past life sitting on top of an oil drum. Each sign costs Tg 2,000 to make. In addition to the signs traffic calming concrete barriers have been installed in 20 places throughout Dalanzadgad.

Next year Byambasuren will target the large ger districts that surround the centre of Dalanzadgad. He has a message for any driver who doesn’t obey: “We will be banging on their heads with lectures if they break the rules!,” he says with a laugh.

The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson can be found here:

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This work is licensed under a
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© David South Consulting 2022