The unpretentious cycle-rickshaw has come a long way since it first appeared on the drawing sheets of Leonardo da Vinci and debuted in Japan in 1870. While that sounds good, it's not quite the truth though. It may have huffed and puffed through two centuries, but the way it looked and behaved has remained unchanged. Until last week, when the rickshaw for the new millennium was flagged off at Agra, India's top tourist destination.
And it's created quite a stir. Not surprising, for it's the first time an attempt has been made to change the design of this ubiquitous human-powered transport which has remained nothing more than a cycle bolted to a rickety cart since '47. It's lighter, roomier, hardier and more comfortable than any rickshaw has ever been. It could be cheaper once manufactured in volumes. Responsible for this innovation are three agencies: the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), US, the Delhi-based Asian Institute for Transport Development and the American funding agency, usaid. But the credit for the design, keeping in mind Indian conditions, goes to 5th Quadrant, a Delhi-based design consultancy firm. Says 5th Quadrant's T. Vineet, project leader and consultant: "It fits into today's politically-correct scenario where human rights and a pollution-free environment are the buzzphrases."