A rickshaw is a light two wheeled cart which is designed to carry one or two people. Traditionally, rickshaws have been pulled by runners who hold the shafts of the cart in either hand. Modern rickshaws are also drawn by bicycles and sometimes lightweight motor vehicles. These lightweight, efficient modes of transport are used in many parts of the world, especially in their native Asia, although some regions have restricted rickshaw traffic out of fear of accidents.
The word is a shortening of the Japanese jinriksha, which means “human powered vehicle.” Rickshaws have been used in Asia for hundreds of years, as numerous drawings and writings suggest, and they were apparently adopted by Europeans when they visited Asia. With the development of the bicycle, the creation of the bicycle rickshaw was a natural progression from the traditional man-powered rickshaw. The basic rickshaw design is also sometimes adopted for things like mobile ice cream and drink carts, especially in Asia.
In cities with narrow, cramped streets, a rickshaw can be an ideal method of transportation because these carts are very easy to maneuver, and they require a minimal amount of room. This can make rickshaw travel much more rapid than car travel, since the carts are not limited by traffic jams. Rickshaws also ease pollution, since they do not generate emissions. The seats often have spaces for groceries and other supplies, and rickshaw rental rates are usually very low so that they can be used by a wide variety of people.
Some people find the experience of traveling by rickshaw quite delightful. The slow pace allows for sightseeing opportunities, and rickshaw drivers often point out interesting sights or talk about the history of the region for passengers who are interested. In communities where rickshaw use is not widespread, a few bicycle rickshaws, also called pedicabs, are not uncommon sights; they are usually used by tourists as a means of exploring the area without trudging on foot.
There are, of course, disadvantages to a rickshaw. A runner pulled rickshaw is limited by the speed and fitness of the runner, which can be an issue in areas where runners work long shifts to make enough money to survive. Rickshaws are also very vulnerable in automobile accidents, since they provide little to no protection for their passengers. Some people also feel uncomfortable being pulled or carried by others, and class-conscious individuals may be uneasy in rickshaws.