Cycle rickshaws, also known as bike taxis, or pedicabs, are easy to laugh at if proposed as serious modes of public transportation. They look funny. Like adult tricycles – not in the way an adult, R-rated movie makes a kid feel more adult, but unfortunately, in the way an adult tricycle, or cycle rickshaw, makes an adult feel more like a little kid. But if we stop worrying about this, about what we look like to other people, (because feeling like other people see you as a kid is the same, in many ways, as feeling like a kid), then we would find that, with cycle rickshaws, we have the solution to all our transportation problems right before our very eyes.
In cities, our transportation problems boil down to reconciling three societal game-changers: 1) the emergence of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft; 2) the looming mass introduction of driverless cars into the market and onto the streets; and 3) climate change and the moral obligation we have now, as urban planners or anybody, to rework society in such a way that it runs on as little fuel as possible, without any great loss in efficiency. Cycle rickshaws could reconcile these three loose ends. Seriously.
First, cycle rickshaws could be hailed as one hails a taxi or called the way one orders an Uber. Second, they would burn substantially less fuel, or expend less energy, whatever the source, than driverless cars. Third, compared to cars: they would be easier to park and take up less room on the road; there would be less screeching and honking and vroom-vrooming; there would be less exhaust in the air; and there would be drivers, employed drivers, as exists with Uber today, but perhaps not tomorrow. In more hilly cities, the rickshaws could be powered by electric bicycle, which would still take far less energy to operate than an electric driverless car. Cities that experience particularly harsh winters, or other seasons of inclement weather, could utilize traditional taxicabs, driverless or not, on a seasonal basis. Even if cycle rickshaws are utilized just three months of the year in cities, on average, that would still have tremendous environmental effects, at the very least.
I could go on, for days, laying out the argument. I could contend how there would be tremendous social and economic effects as well. Pedestrian rule! Human energy, valued again! But I don’t really think there’s a need for that, anymore. You’ve read this far and absorbed the idea into your head. Well, my friend, it’s there to stay. I promise you that. Cycle rickshaws, rickshaws, rickshaws... Thanks for hearing me out. Now, please, do us all a favor, and keep thinking about it. Consider it your moral obligation. We’re on the same side. Or, as my grandma used to say to me, quoting her favorite adult movie, Casablanca: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Here’s looking at you.