The Pedicab Project Is Giving Nepal's Rickshaws a Modern Update

Pedicab Project Team with the pedicab riders. Image from Michael Linke's Facebook page. Used with permission.

Among the sea of traditional rickshaws on the streets of Lumbini, the southern Nepalese birthplace of Lord Buddha, the Pedicab Project‘s modern version of the passenger cart is sure to catch your eye.

Sleek, futuristic and not at all rickety, these pedicabs are built by Catapult Design of Denver, USA, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has provided US$350,000 for the design and production of 60 prototypes.

Launched in April, 28 pedicabs are currently being trialed in Lumbini and another 28 in Kathmandu. After successful completion of the pilot phase, the design for mass production will be finalized based on the feedback from both customers and drivers.

Global Voices Nepal author Sanjib Chaudhary spoke with Bradley Schroeder, project manager for the Pedicab Project, about these modernized rickshaws and how they might change the way people look at rickshaws in Nepal. Here are the excerpts of the interview.

Global Voices (GV): What was the inspiration to pursue this project?

Bradley Schroeder (BS): Pedicabs (also known as cycle rickshaws) provide an essential mobility service for much of South Asia. The industry to produce and manage cycle rickshaws likewise is also a major employment and income source for the poorest of the poor. The zero-emission and zero-noise vehicles provide numerous benefits, especially when offsetting motorized trips.

GV: Can you tell us how the pedicabs work? How are they different from normal rickshaws?

BS: The pedicabs are a modernized version of the traditional cycle rickshaw. The traditional cycle rickshaws are antiquated and not utilizing the best technology available; mostly in terms of the appearance, material (weight) and gearing. The project focused on a more modern design with better quality components.

GV: You have launched the first batch of pedicabs in Lumbini. What is the initial feedback from passengers and tourists?

BS: Initial feedback is good. The electrical assist version is definitely more popular than the pedal only. Both the operators (wallahs) and the tourist prefer it. There are some minor things Catapult will suggest changing in future pedicabs. It's important to note that these were prototypes so there are some teething problems but all in all, it's a solid vehicle. I think the best phrase is, “the wheels didn't fall off”.

GV: How does this work? Are you giving away the pedicabs for free? How did you choose the riders who got the pedicabs?

BS: Again these were prototype vehicles so they were given to the operators (wallahs). It would not be ethical to charge for a ‘yet unproven vehicle’. Future pedicab distribution will most likely be through a more sustainable model such as recapitalization or financing.

GV: Isn’t this project too expensive? You’ve been given US$ 350,000 to design 60 pedicabs, whereas you get similar battery-powered rickshaws at a nominal price in the market. Can you share with us the cost-benefit analysis of the project?

BS: Catapult Design has done extensive research on what is available in the current market and none suited the needs of the South Asia market. When you speak about the cost of the vehicle you cannot just divide $ 350,000 by 60; you need to account for the design, evaluation, manufacturing at a low number of units, etc. The current price of the pedicab, if in full production, would be competitive to the cost of a current rickshaw, although a bit higher (est. at 10% depending on the country).

Michael Linke posing with a pedicab. Image from Michael Linke's Facebook page. Used with permission.

GV: What are your future plans? Where next do you want to take these pedicabs?

BS: The final stage of the project is the evaluation. Suggestions will then be made and the design modified if necessary. The design of the pedicab is open-source (as per a requirement by ADB) so any manufacturer can then use it. The Southeast Asian market is huge so if the design proves itself it should be replicated and market forces will drive it from there.

If the project succeeds, perhaps we will see hundreds of new, modern pedicabs operating in countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines in the near future.

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