The Pedicab and the Rickshaw: A Sociopolitical Conundrum

At a time when modern cities across the globe are investing in healthy transit alternatives like cycling, the traditional rickshaw, a dominant form of transportation in Bangladesh, is now being banned in Dhaka for being "slow" and "inhuman." We agree, this ban is "Wrong-minded modernization".

Pedicabs (bike taxis) are the latest in chic transportation in cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, London, Amsterdam and Stockholm. Variations like electric "Trikes", solar powered rickshaws, and "Ecocabs" are being introduced onto our streets to cheers of enthusiasm from commuters, tourists, and transit advocates alike. It's a great way to introduce the bicycle into the existing traffic flow, both due to it's larger scale (with the passenger attachment and variety of canopies) and to the fact that it doesn't require millions of dollars ininfrastructure investment. In addition, pedicabs are quickly becoming a popuar small business option, providing new jobs with a certain degree of panache. Well, that's the case in many places. In Dhaka, however, a series of bans are threatening the traditional mode of transportation. It's a huge potential blow to the livelihoods of rickshaw drivers, the millions of people who use them (often low-income), and to general health of the crowded city. The bans seem exceptionally regressive when you consider the fact that car exhaust is the main cause of smoke, smog, and dust in Dhaka,which has one of the highest levels of air pollution in the world.

There is another important factor: more than 35% of female commuters in Dhaka depend on a cycle rickshaw to get around. It is not only a means of transportation, but a means of independence, sincefor many women in Bangladesh, bicycling is still frowned upon. This stigma against girls on bikes is changing slowing thanks to groups like Arohi, a Bangladeshi women's cycling initiative. In the mean time, however, a ban on rickshaws stands to further threaten their freedom of mobility.

Meanwhile, a female pedicab driver in Portland, Oregon told us, "[cycling] is obviously the cleanest way to get around [...] and there is something empowering about personally [transporting] two 200Ib men up the steepest hills in town."