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Rickshaws, also known in the western world as pedicabs, are human-powered vehicles. There are hand-pulled rickshaws and cycle-drawn rickshaws with two wheels in the back and pulled by a human (usually a man). Typically, one to two people can ride a rickshaw at a time, and the driver, usually called a “rickshaw wallah” or rickshaw puller, charges extra per passenger.

Rickshaw history

Rickshaws are driven all over the world but originated in Asia, and the word rickshaw comes from the Japanese word jinrikisha. Jin means human, riki means strength, and sha means vehicle, and put together that literally means "human-powered vehicle." In the olden days, rickshaws were pulled by the poor for the social elite. Now they are used by the middle class and in some cases, the working class as well. [1]

Although the inventor of the rickshaw remains a mystery, the first rickshaws appeared in Japan in the late 1800’s. Within a few years, rickshaws were seen in India, Bangladesh and China. The benefits were that they were fast, environmentally friendly, cheap and small so they didn’t take up much room on the road.

In the 1990’s the United States and United Kingdom have adapted rickshaws as a tourist attraction, and call them Pedicabs.

  • Manhattan Rickshaw Company - [2]
  • NYC Pedicab Association - [3]
  • Pedicabs in London - [4]
  • Rickshaw Rentals - [5]

To get a virtual experience of driving a rickshaw, click here [6]

Rickshaws and advertising

Rickshaws have always been used as a means of advertising the same way as having a billboard on the side of a bus. In Bangladesh and India, rickshaws were adorned with colorful hand-painted images of actresses and actors to advertise upcoming movies. And now in modern cities like London and New York, the backs, sides, and even wheels of rickshaws are sold for their advertising space.

  • Rickshaw arts of Bangladesh - [7]
  • New York's Pedicab Advertising - [8]

Social issues

Many special interest groups and human rights groups view rickshaw drivers as overworked and underpaid. A small glimpse into the life of a rickshaw wallah was illustrated in the photo exhibit, Rickshaw: Views on a Social Issue [9]

Recent improvements

The Indian bicycle industry, tourism industry, and marketing and public relations experts put over 100,000 modern cycle rickshaws on the road in seven Indian cities. The Indian Cycle Rickshaw Modernization Project helped clean the air and increase employment and income among the poor, while keeping the cost of the vehicle roughly constant. [10]

“ITDP's modern rickshaw design reduced the weight of the vehicles by more than 30%, from 80kgs in the traditional vehicle to 55kg. The integral tubular frame has excellent structural qualities and a multi gear system makes pedaling much easier. Surveys with operators demonstrated that incomes increased by 20% to 50% because they were able to work longer, attract new passengers, and because customer satisfaction rose along with better comfort and safety.” [11]

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