It is not quite reinventing the wheel, but one company is trying to overhaul an old-fashioned form of public transport–the cycle rickshaw.
Funded by the Asian Development Bank, Colorado-based Catapult Design has produced a new, flashy design for the vehicle — ubiquitous in Indian and other South Asian cities — that includes electrical assistance and gears for tricky hills.
Cycle rickshaws, or pedicabs, in South Asia provide backbreaking but vital work for the drivers who pedal passengers often on short “last mile” trips from other forms of transport to their final destination.
Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, has half a million cycle rickshaws alone, Bradley Schroeder, who is leading the $340,000 project to develop an open-source design of the pedicab, said. But the design hasn’t improved much in 40 years.
The ADB will spend $150,000 on manufacturing 60 prototype vehicles and testing them in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, and Lumbini, a tourism hotspot in the Himalayan nation and the birthplace of Buddha, over the coming months.
Half of the new rickshaws will be pedal-only, and the rest will have built-in electrical assistance provided by a lithium-ion battery, the company said.
Most rickshaws are currently made from tubular steel and if they have electrical assistance, it is provided by a heavy car battery, Mr. Schroeder said. Exposed parts of the rickshaw’s mechanics mean that clothes such as saris can become caught and cause accidents.
The new design is made from stainless steel and the mechanics are fully enclosed and include gears. The lithium batteries are more lightweight and the electrics comply with European Union standards, he added. The vinyl cover on the rickshaw provides protection from the elements.
“We wanted to make the body very sexy,” Mr. Schroeder said. The designers talked about adding seatbelts but decided against it since the the speeds were so low.
The new cabs are more expensive – they will cost $750, compared with about $400 for an average rickshaw. That cost, Mr. Schroeder says, is a result of the reduced weight and the addition of smartphone vehicle-hailing and driver-evaluation technologies as well as touch screens that can deliver tour guides to passengers.
“Weight is everything in the pedicab industry,” Mr. Schroeder wrote in an emailed response. The lighter model will mean that the pedicab will have a top speed of 15.5 miles an hour, but, Mr. Schroeder wrote, “essentially the vehicle will go as fast as the wallah (driver) can pedal and since the vehicle is lighter and now has gears, the wallah should be able to go faster.”
The drivers of the rickshaws for the trial in Nepal will be taken from the existing pool of the cities’ rickshaw chauffeurs, Mr. Schroeder said.
His team spent several months interviewing drivers, owners and garages. “There are a lot of questions, it’s not always easy. But over time we win them over and they are happy,” he said.
“They live on the fringes of society and are very concerned about making money every day,” he said. “They can see their industry is in decline.’
But although the cycle rickshaw is steeped in tradition, its drivers aren’t resistant to change.
“If you show them a 3-D printed model of the design, they’re blown away,” Mr. Schroeder said.
After the trial, Mr. Schroeder hopes a bicycle, motorcycle or auto company picks up the unpatented design and uses it to manufacture the product.
Source: U.S. Design Company Redesigns the Cycle Rickshaw to Make it ‘Sexy’ – India Real Time – WSJ