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How green rickshaws are now taking me to Mumbai; Neil Hodgson talks to the Mersey man selling cheap transport to India.

SMALL BUSINESS of theWeek IT'S like selling ice to the Eskimos or sand to the Arabs," says Southport businessman Roger Khanijau. He has secured the rights to operate battery-powered rickshaws he has designed at Delhi's Commonwealth Games next month.

Thousands of the environmentally-friendly rickshaws will hit the streets of the capital city from October 3. His Eco Tourist Cabs business has franchised the design to Indian company E-Ricks, with plans to set up similar operations in other major cities such as Mumbai and Calcutta, capitalising on the Indian government's drive to drastically cut the huge number of unlicensed and polluting old rickshaws.

Roger, 39, said Southport pier provided his 'Eureka' moment in 2003.

"We needed to get stock and supplies to the end of the pier, so I came up with an old cycle rickshaw.

"But I went back to the drawing board and luckily came into contact with a friend of the family, Naresh Kathuria, who is involved in one of India's largest automotive supply companies, Venus Group."

Mr Kathuria has overseen production of the improved motorised rickshaws in Delhi after a Liverpool trial two years ago and with the assistance of the UK Trade and Investment agency.

Roger shipped over four of his new battery-powered designs for the 2008 Mathew Street Festival.

"We started to build in fibreglass, then moved to polyethylene, which is totally recyclable.

"We had our first prototype model in March 2006 after I remortgaged my house and sold my Lamborghini Spider to invest in the business, because this is my baby, it has been a passion," he said.

The four battery-powered rickshaws ferried tourists around the Albert Dock and ECHO Arena sites during the festival.

Roger said: "We had a great response, especially from the police at the Mathew Street Festival asking us to give them a lift."

But he said the British climate, particularly typical bank holiday weekends, didn't lend itself to a major investment in rickshaws. He added: "If we had better weather we would have built more of these for the UK market."

So his attention turned to the Commonwealth Games which had just been awarded to India. He said: "That was the big news in India - like the UK getting the 2012 Olympics - turning a third world country into a place fit enough for the Commonwealth to see. It's a very big thing."

And he said he was pushing at an open door with the Indian government keen to limit old-fashioned rickshaws and improve tourist-related services.

"The government has 100,000 rickshaw licenses in Delhi but there are half a million unlicensed rickshaws," Roger said.

He explained that the latest model, which will transport tourists, athletes and VIPs around the Games, also has a global positioning system (GPS) which has an added benefit to its obvious function: it's possible to track and locate rickshaws if they are stolen.

Roger stipulates that all his rickshaw drivers have to be literate and have to be paid at least the minimum wage.

"A lot of the drivers will be university students," he said.

Mr Kathuria's Delhi production site aims to build 4,000 eco-friendly rickshaws in time for the Games, but Roger's plans extend far beyond the closing ceremony.

He said: "I have franchised the system to E-Ricks for the northern states, but would look at doing something similar for Mumbai, Calcutta and many of the metropolitan cities.

"They are ideal for tourist sites where there are no carbon emissions allowed, like the India Gate or the Taj Mahal."

He is also looking closer to home. "I had interest from Peter Jones from Dragons' Den for his Tycoon TV series and I am talking to Wirral council about putting the rickshaws in New Brighton, around the lake, and to and from Hilbre Island," he said.

"I believe we have a really good scope here on Merseyside."

He believes shopping centres, like Liverpool One, could also offer opportunities. of "My mum is not great on her feet and I thought it would be good to have something to ferry people around places like Liverpool One and other shopping centres," he said. "I am also looking at the 2012 London Olympics."

@He attributes his drive to his parents, explaining: "My dad came over here in the 1970s and was a businessman and my mum is a great artist."

The family first made its mark on the Merseyside business scene with three shops selling their own branded ice cream in the 1970s.

Today, Roger runs the remaining shop in West Kirby, which was popular with former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez and his family.

CAPTION(S):

GREEN MAN: Roger Khanijau, of Southport-based Eco Tourist Cabs Picture: COLIN LANE ON TRIAL: The ecotourist rickshaws in use during the 2008 Mathew Street Festival
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Sep 8, 2010
Words:794
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