A perspective of life from a cycle rickshaw August 08, 2015 07:00

The humble cycle rickshaw has been plying the streets of India since the 1940s. Back then; a cycle rickshaw was a great advancement in technology in comparison to the hand-pulled carriages and animal carts. During the British rule, it was used as a mode of luxury transport or for fun. Not much has evolved or changed ever since. However, the cycle rickshaws in this era, remains the best way to navigate through neighbourhoods and very crowded wholesale markets. The irony is that these slow paced vehicles (compared to their motorised counterparts) navigate best in fast paced markets and bazaars.

 

The struggles of the cycle rickshaw rider are plenty. Usually migrant labourers, these drivers come to cities and struggle to make ends meet. They face immense competition from fellow drivers and other modern modes of transport – especially because the cycle rickshaw takes a longer time than a regular motor rickshaw. Apart from that, they face a lot of hardship by navigating around with direct exposure to harsh weather. And to make things tougher, customers often bargain down the rate of the ride to the destination. On good days their earnings can be anything between SGD8-10.

There’s a lot to learn from the cycle rickshaw driver. His knowledge of the millions of tiny ‘gullies’ and lanes is extensive. Accessing these destinations through the fastest and shortest routes is something that they learn over time. The accuracy of these guys can put any virtual map app to shame. Cycle rickshaw drivers are amongst the poorest employed urban dwellers. Looking at their hard lives, we are reminded to count our blessings and treat them with dignity.

In India, there is an old-world charm to this mode of transport. It is fascinating to see the versatility of the ubiquitous cycle rickshaws. They are used for all kinds of movements – carrying busy wedding shoppers through a maze of winding markets, transferring furniture and goods with ease, they are also used as ‘school bus’ rickshaws to ferry young school kids back home on a sunny afternoon.

Although one of the oldest forms of transport in the country, the future should not be bleak for these vehicles. These cycle rickshaws are a boon to the polluted urban India. It is one of the greenest modes of transport. It improves mobility within neighborhoods – with the lack of any other form of public transport. The cycle rickshaws improve accessibility and provide a better, pollution-free alternative to driving shorter distances in the neighborhood. It also creates millions of jobs for unskilled and uneducated migrant labor. So next time you are in India, make sure you hop on to the humble cycle rickshaw and experience life from another era.