What are Pedicabs?

When we think of bicycles, we tend to think of the two-wheel bikes or maybe tricycles (if you have kids), but there are more types of pedal propelled modes of transportation than that! One of the popular ones, particularly in many areas of Asia and in large urban centers, is the pedicab. You may not know it by that name, but they are also known as rickshaws or bicycle taxis. For today, we want to look at these interesting alternatives to the traditional taxi.

What is a Pedicab?

A pedicab is also known as a cycle rickshaw. They are traditionally set up rather like a very large tricycle with a wheel in the front, two in the back, and then a covered cab or half a covered cab for the passengers to sit in (the driver may also be covered too, depending on the style of the pedicab). The traditional rickshaw is powered by humans cycling, but some of them also use a motor or electricity so that the vehicle can move a bit faster and the human driver isn’t under as much stress. There are many, many different styles of pedicabs out there now; they vary from country to country and from company to company!

Original rickshaws were pulled by humans who would run them around (quite literally). They are largely retired now, but there are still a few places where you can ride on one, namely in Calcutta and Hong Kong, London, Dublin, and L.A. In most of these places, they are tourist attractions. The human pulled rickshaw first became popular in Japan during the 1870s, though no one quite knows who invented it. The legend goes that it was invented in Japan (the name is based on the word ‘jinrikisha’ which means ‘human powered vehicle’) by a European missionary who needed a way to carry his invalid wife around. By the start of the 20th century, the rickshaw was in India and China and it became very popular.

The cycle rickshaw came about in the 1880s. They are not considered the same as the traditional rickshaw as a traditional one normally pulled by a human, not cycled by one. The first cycle rickshaws were built in the 1880s where they became popular in Singapore and by 1925 they started to outnumber the pulled rickshaw. By the late 1980s, a hundred years after invention, there were around 4 million cycle rickshaws in the world.

How do you Use One?

Pedicabs are an alternative to the traditional taxi that we think of. Instead of riding in a cab, the passenger or two passengers sit behind the driver who is pedaling the vehicle. However, some designs have the driver sitting behind the passengers, giving them a great front seat to all the views. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have these sorts of configurations whereas India and China are more like the traditional configuration with the driver in front of the passengers. In a few places, the passenger seat is beside the driver’s; in the Philippines for example and some designs in Singapore and Burma.

Bicycle cabs generally hit speeds of about ten kilometers per hour, so they’re not particularly fast. However, they can be awfully efficient in high traffic areas as they can weave in and out of traffic more efficiently. Electric ones can move faster of course, but they often have more rules put in place regarding their use.

Where Are Pedicabs Used?

Pedicabs used to be fairly popular, but they have dwindled in use due to things like safety concerns, price gouging, complaints from taxi drivers, and the fact that they aren’t that fast. They are commonly used in Asian countries, but also in some large European and North American cities. Nowadays, they are almost always used for tourists and for something novel. However, they also have benefits for the environment and they can be faster if there is a high level of traffic.

Pedicabs are found in just some of the following places:

Madagascar (Pousse-pousse)
Canada (Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto)
Mexico (bicitaxi or taxi ecologico)
United States (Green Bay, Austin, Denver, Seattle, etc. many urban centers)
Bangladesh (though they have been banned in many major streets because of accidents)
Cambodia (cyclo)
China (sanlunche)
New Zealand

They are used in places all over the world because they are fun, environmentally sound, and can help people avoid traffic!

Impact of Pedicabs

While they are often used as a novelty transportation in many places in Europe and North America, cycle rickshaws have a stronger impact in many Asian cities. They play an important role in the economy of these cities by providing employment for rural immigrants, helping the poor better their lives for their family’s. Socially, cycle rickshaws have done a lot of good to help the elderly get on bikes, help people run a side business, and provide some extra flavor for tourism. However, pedicabs are a bit controversial as well. Some areas have banned or restricted them out of safety concerns or because they are too slow and add to congestion in cities that don’t have space for them. In some places, they are banned because they don’t fit the modern image for an area (Bangkok) or because they are associated with the idea of colonists overpowering the locals (China under Mao).

In other places, pedicabs must be registered (Taiwan) or only certain ones are banned such as electrical ones in New York or Toronto, but muscle powered ones are still fine.

Finally, rickshaws and pedicabs play a role in many films and artwork while becoming artwork. Rickshaws are often heavily decorated (especially in Dhaka where they are a medium for folk art), and many owners enjoy adding their personality to their main means of employment and transportation. More broadly speaking, pedicabs are often found in films and art. In fact, even if you have never been in one or even seen one for yourself, you’ve likely seen one in a movie, television show or in artwork! They are pretty widespread for something that isn’t as well used anymore.

They may not be what we immediately think of when we think about bicycles, but pedicabs have etched out their place in the world of transportation. They are a fun way to travel around a city or in a more rural place and it is a truly unique experience. Just make sure you don’t get taken in by people overcharging for their services if you decide to give the pedicab a try. Otherwise, have fun!