Friday, October 29, 2010

And the Cycle Rickshaw Driver Paddles On

In Chennai, the black and yellow auto rickshaws rule the road - at least in terms of numbers. With their small size, these vehicles deftly maneuver their way through narrow streets and the narrowest of openings between buses. In spite of the auto rickshaw’s popularity, their older cousin - the cycle rickshaw - still tries to eek out a presence and living in in the narrow streets of Georgetown and other older, more northern parts of Chennai.

On a typical day, a cycle rickshaw driver earns around 100 rupees ($2.25) carting people on short trips. While the cycles are meant to hold two people, some are modified with an extra plank to accommodate five. How difficult it must be to cycle that amount of weight around! While this might entice a family to ride, it does not necessarily mean more money per trip, because charges are typically based on distance. Only those with extra time on their hands, very little money, or a very short distance to go would opt to choose a cycle type over an auto rickshaw. A recent newspaper article interviewed a few cycle rickshaw drivers . With the meager earnings, they weren’t even able to afford housing - instead staying with relatives or simply staying in the rickshaw. If the driver does not own the rickshaw, then his earnings will have to be shared by the owner, who charges perhaps 25 rupees for rent. Despite the low earnings and hard work, one interviewed cycle drivers’ dream was simply to own a cycle rickshaw some day. Family tradition (many are 2nd or 3rd generation cycle rickshaw drivers) may likely have some bearing on that decision, but there must be more to it than that. And so the cyclist paddles on.

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