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INDICAB Want a Ride!

Just imagine a cab that runs without petrol, diesel or any other fuel. Difficult? But what if I tell you that the vehicle runs in almost all Indian cities... Yes, you have guessed it. Rickshaws, of course! Our Panditji and Panditain go vegetable shopping everyday on a rickshaw. Let’s join them for a trip around the city. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride, as rickshaws may disappear from the roads in some cities like Delhi! Why? Read on. First, a bit of history.

Rickshaws (man pulled) first appeared in Japan in 1868 and became very popular. They were easier to negotiate than the traditional palanquins. Since then, rickshaws have appeared in differnt avatars—pulled by human beings or cycles (cycle rickshaws) or by machines (autorickshaws).

The process of evolution of each version is interesting. Here, however, we will focus on only one of them. Cycle rickshaws. Because they might just become extinct soon.You see, a recent Delhi High Court directive has banned cycle rickshaws on the arterial roads of Delhi. Cycle rickshaws started plying in Delhi in the late 1940s.

The cheap cost price of the vehicle and its low fares—that a majority could afford—soon made it the most popular mode of transport in the other metros, as well as the small towns, across the country. For travelling short distances nothing could be more convenient , or more budget-friendly. It played another vital role as well.

Cycle rickshaws offered (they still do), a legitimate source of livelihood to the migrant labourers, who trooped to the cities and towns everyday from villages and hamlets, in search of roziroti. Driving rickshaws required minimum skill and the labourers had the option of hiring the vehicles on daily rent from the local transport contractors.


Now whats that? It’s a taxi, which runs when you paddle. They are also known as velotaxis, biketaxis around the world.

    Country     Rickshaw name
    Cambodia/Vietnam     Cyclo (pronounced see-clo)
    Singapore     Trishaw
    Indonesia     Becak
    America     Pedicab

There, of course, has always been an ongoing debate around rickshaws, both the handpulled and the cycledriven varieties. Is rickshaw-driving an ‘inhuman’ occupation? Die-hard supporters of cycle rickshaws claim that this version of the vehicle is sufficiently mechanised. So driving these is certainly not more backbreaking than other forms of physical labour, such as working in construction sites, or as a coolie. In fact, it is a more civilised alternative. Rickshaws have also been blamed for the frequent traffic jams and congestion on roads. In fact, the Delhi High Court directive banning the rickshaws cites this as the primary reason behind the move.

Rajender Ravi of Lokayan, a Delhi based NGO, believes that rickshaws are just being made the scapegoat. Aren’t the ever-increasing fleets of cars and private vehicles the main culprits here, he asks? Two cars take as much space as a bus, but carry just 10 per cent of the people as compared to the bus.

The solution to traffic snarls is not to build more flyovers, nor to keep widening roads, thus pushing the pedestrians rickshaws, and bicycles right off the streets. Neither is it to ban cheaper forms of transport like rickshaws, which cater to millions of city dwellers.

The answer to congestions is a unified transport policy, which takes all forms of transport into consideration, argue experts. There should be separate lanes for slow moving vehicles like rickshaws and cycles. The public transportation plan should integrate and encourage cycle rickshaws as intermediate mode of transport for short distance commuting, and as feeders to buses, metro rails, and other more sophisticated alternatives

Also, in a world where conventional, and the most commonly used fuels like petrol, diesel are emerging as a serious threat to environment as well as to public health, cycle rickshaws—may be a little more modernised versions of the present model—can truly emerge as the saviour! Just think about it. It is estimated that cycle rickshaw saves 10 crore motorised trips every day in India and more than 1 crore trips in Delhi. Are the honourable Judges listening?


     The new age Rickshaws      

Traditional rickshaws are made up of bicycle components. While this gives the whole structure strength, it increases the weight to as much as 80 kgs! This assembly of a variety of components usually leads to misaligned vehicles, which require more energy to paddle. Also the centre of gravity is high, which makes the machine unstable. But there are new designs of rickshaws being developed.

In the latest version, the weight has been reduced to as less as 50 kgs with the use of an integral tubular frame, which is equally strong. The provision of multigears helps in trasmission even when the load is more. The centre of gravity has been lowered considerably, which makes it more stable and easier for passengers to get on it. With upgraded gears, hydraulic brakes, comfortable seats, halogen lights, the new age rickshaw is quite a machine!



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