Index of all articles, click here

Pulled rickshaw

A pulled rickshaw (or ricksha) is a mode of human-powered transport by which a runner draws a two-wheeled cart which seats one or two persons. Rickshaws are commonly made with bamboo. In recent times the use of rickshaws has been discouraged or outlawed in many countries due to concern for the welfare of rickshaw workers.[1] Runner-pulled rickshaws have been replaced mainly by cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws. The term rickshaw is today commonly used for those vehicles as well.


The word rickshaw originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha (jin = human,riki = power or force, ? sha = vehicle), which literally means "human-powered vehicle".[2] In 1874, The word jinricksha/jinrikisha" was published in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1887. The word rickshaw/ricksha was included in the Oxford English Dictionary as a relation of jinricksha/jinrikisha. The word ricksha was used as a manual laborer's slang word in Japan. However, the Japanese rickshaw declined due to the development of the auto industry in the 1930s.[3]


Rickshaws were first seen in Japan around 1868, at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. They soon became a popular mode of transportation since they were faster than the previously used palanquins (and human labor was considerably cheaper than the use of horses).

The identity of the inventor remains uncertain. Some American sources give the American blacksmith Albert Tolman, who is said to have invented the rickshaw around 1848 in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a missionary. Others claim that Jonathan Scobie (or Jonathan Goble), an American missionary to Japan, invented the rickshaw around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama.[4] Other scholars think it was Izumi Yosuke, a restaurateur in Tokyo in 1869. In New Jersey, the Burlington County Historical Society claims an 1867 invention by carriage maker James Birch, and exhibits a Birch rickshaw in its museum.[5] None of these dates, however, are as early as the French sources.

Still others say the rickshaw was designed by an American Baptist minister in 1888. This is undoubtedly incorrect, for an 1877 article by a New York Times correspondent in Tokyo stated that the "jin-riki-sha, or man-power carriage" was in current popular use, and was probably invented by an American in 1869 or 1870.

Japanese sources often credit Izumi Yosuke, Suzuki Tokujiro, and Takayama Kosuke, who are said to have invented rickshaws in 1868, inspired by the horse carriages that had been introduced to the streets of Tokyo shortly before. Starting in 1870, the Tokyo government issued a permission to build and sell rickshaws to these three men. The seal of one of these inventors was also required on every license to operate a rickshaw.

By 1872, some 40,000 rickshaws were operating in Tokyo. They soon became the chief form of public transportation in Japan.[6]

Around 1880, rickshaws appeared in India, first in Simla and then, 20 years later, in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Here they were initially used by Chinese traders to transport goods. In 1914, the Chinese applied for permission to use rickshaws to transport passengers. Soon after, rickshaws appeared in many big cities in Southeast Asia . Pulling a rickshaw was often the first job for peasants migrating to these cities.

Country overview



Rickshaws, known as pousse-pousse, are a common form of transport in a number of Malagasy cities, especially Antsirabe and Toamasina. They are often brightly decorated.

South Africa

Durban is famous for its iconic Zulu rickshaw pullers navigating throughout the city. These colourful characters are famous for their giant, vibrant hats and costumes. Although they had been a mode of transportation since the early 1900s, they were displaced by motorised transport, and the approximately 25 rickshaws left mostly cater to tourists today.[7]



Manual rickshaws were first used in China during the late 19th century,

Rickshaw transport was an important element in urban development in 20th century China, both in terms of its provision of transport to the consumers of the service and for the employment it provided (and migration it facilitated) for workers. Rickshaw Beijing: City People and Politics in the 1920 by David Strand quantifies the effect: "Sixty thousand men took as many as a half million fares a day in a city of slightly more than one million. Sociologist Li Jinghan estimated that one out of six males in the city between the ages of sixteen and fifty was a puller. Rickshaw men and their dependents made up almost 20 percent of Beijing's population." (p. 21)

Most manual rickshaws were eliminated in China after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a symbol of oppression of the working class.


Rickshaw is a traditional and famous ride in Bangladesh. It is a tricycle with a back seat large enough to occupy two people and is manually driven. It is the most popular ride of the country and most people use this form of transport. Unlike most other places in the world, the rickshaw is used to travel short distances. It is convenient for the people of the country as they do not need to walk to get to places and the fare is also reasonable. Rickshaws are very colorful, made with different colored ribbons and paint. People who pull rickshaws are called rickshaw pullers, and they are a familiar sight in the cities and towns of Bangladesh. Most of these rickshaw pullers don't own their own rickshaws and live under the poverty line. They have to hire rickshaw for half day at 50 taka or for full day at 100 taka. Pulling a rickshaw requires stamina and carrying heavy loads especially in inclement weather. Most of them live in the slums in an unhealthy environment. Due to their low status in society, mainly due to social conditions of poverty, rickshaw pullers face abuse and discrimination, including incidents of physical violence from passengers. Active unions for such rickshaw pullers include the Rickshaw Sramik League. Unions such as these try to improve the lives of rickshaw pullers and using rallies and highlighting the plight of rickshaw pullers to the society at large. Lately, a new type of rickshaws are made which run by electrically charged batteries. These rickshaws require less hard work and are also easier to pull. The opening ceremony of the 2011 Cricket World Cup took place in Bangladesh at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka at 5:30 PM on February 17, 2011 where cricketers were being brought by rickshaw.

Rickshaw is distinct part of the Bangladeshi culture and the miniature show pieces are made as souvenir for tourists.

Hong Kong

Rickshaws were first imported to Hong Kong from Japan in 1874. They were a popular form of transport for many years, peaking at more than 3,000 in the 1920s. However, their popularity waned after World War II. No new licenses for rickshaws have been issued since 1975, and only a few old men—four as of 2009[8]—still bear a license. It is reported that only one of them still offer rickshaw rides on The Peak, mainly for tourists.[9]


Though most of India has migrated to motorised auto rickshaws, hand-pulled rickshaws do exist in a few pockets and towns. As of 2005, the last sizeable fleet of rickshaws can be found in Kolkata (Calcutta), where the rickshaw-puller union resisted prohibition.

Several major streets have been closed to rickshaw traffic since 1972, and in 1982 the city seized over 12,000 rickshaws and destroyed them. In 1992, it was estimated that over 30,000 rickshaws were operating in the city, all but 6,000 of them illegally, lacking a license (no new licenses have been issued since 1945). The large majority of rickshaw pullers rent their rickshaws for a few dollars per shift. They live cheaply in hostels, trying to save money to send home. (Eide, 1993) Each dera, a mixture of a garage, repair shop, and dormitory, has a sardar that manages it. Pullers often pay around 100 rupees (around $2.50 United States dollars) per month to live in a dera.[10] Hindu and Muslim pullers often share housing.[11] Some pullers sleep in the streets in their rickshaws.[11]

As of 2008, many of the Kolkata rickshaw pullers originate from Bihar, considered to be one of the poorest states in India.[12]

In August 2005, the Communist government of West Bengal announced plans to completely ban pulled rickshaws, resulting in protests and strikes of the pullers.[13]

In 2006, the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, announced that pulled rickshaws would be banned and that rickshaw pullers would be rehabilitated.[14]

Calvin Trillin of National Geographic stated in a 2008 article that the city government has not decided how rickshaw drivers would be rehabilitated, nor has it settled on a date regarding when the government would decide. Trillin added that many high West Bengal officials made statements saying that rickshaws would be banned from 1976 to 2008.[1]

According to Trillin, most Kolkata rickshaws serve people "just a notch above poor" who tend to travel short distances. He added that some people use rickshaws as "24 hour ambulance services," as escorts for shoppers, and as a way for businesses to transport goods. Trillin added that pullers told him that children enrolled in schools were the "steadiest" customers. Many middle-class families contract with rickshaw pullers to transport their children; a rickshaw puller who transports children becomes a "family retainer."[11] Trillin adds that some Kolkatans do not like to ride in rickshaws because they feel offended by the idea of a human pulling them, and that some of them question the government's motives on banning rickshaws. Trillin cited Rudrangshu Mukerjee, an academic who said that he does not want to be carried in a rickshaw but does not like the idea of "taking away their livelihood."[1] Trillin adds that when Kolkata floods rickshaw business increases and prices rise. A Kolkata writer told Trillin, "When it rains, even the governor takes rickshaws."[15]


Rickshaws are a type of bicycle, called becak.[16]


Rickshaws were a common mode of transport in urban areas of Malaysia in the 19th and early 20th centuries until gradually replaced by cycle rickshaws.


Runner-pulled rickshaws (and cycle rickshaws or qinqi) have officially been outlawed in Pakistan since the late 50s/early 60s. Formerly in Pakistan most transportation was done by horse-drawn carriages called tongas, but more cost-effective auto rickshaws have now taken their place in small cities.



Helsinki saw its first rickshaws in 2009 when a company decided to bring them from another town in Finland, Lappeenranta. The rental service is located at Kaivopuisto.


Dublin first saw the rickshaw on its streets in 1994 when a rickshaw company originally based in Canada set up a fleet of 20 of the vehicles. The company builds them from tubular steel. However, the company was actually called the original rickshaw company. The people of Dublin, both locals and tourists alike, were surprised at first to see the Far Eastern concept in Ireland. People began to use the rickshaws for getting about from pubs to pubs to clubs or for a quick ride around Temple Bar. Later that year 12 pedicab rickshaws were imported by a wine club owner named B. McDonald who started Pedicabs Ireland. A year later J. Ralf & J. Utah, former Pedicab Ireland riders, set up a small fleet of hand-pulled rickshaws called the Silver Rickshaw company. The last hand-pulled rickshaw Company was to be formed by ex-Pedicab Ireland Manager B. Wheeler. This was, in the summer of 2001, called simply The Rickshaw Co. The company quickly grew with six pedicabs added to its fleet of 12 newly built hand-pulled rickshaws. The attacks in America on 9/11 damaged the new industry and many of the companies mentioned above are no longer operating with the exception of the Silver Rickshaws.

North America

United States of America

In Los Angeles, California, a rickshaw rental company operated and rented original vintage and antique hand pulled rickshaws. The company was the only one in the United States providing original antique hand pulled rickshaws.

Rickshaws are still present on the boardwalks of Atlantic City and Ocean City, New Jersey, and in some parts of New York City.

Rickshaws are also available in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on State Street where normal automobile traffic is not allowed.

Rickshaws are present in Cincinnati, Ohio, and northern Kentucky (Newport, Covington and Bellevue).

Pedicabs are available in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Rickshaws are a popular mode of transportation in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, providing tours of historical Byward Market, in the summer. Ottawa's rickshaws stay true to the traditional foot-driven rickshaw model, but feature modern sound-systems on their rickshaws in order to play music.

Rickshaws can also be found in Toronto, Ontario, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Victoria, British Columbia.

Tourist attractions

Rickshaws are a tourist attraction in the Asakusa region of Tokyo; in the main temple area of Kyoto; in tourist heavy areas of Kamakura; on The Peak, Hong Kong; in Vietnam on Cijin Island in Kaohsiung; in areas of London's Chinatown, in Ottawa's Byward Market; in downtown Toronto; in Kathmandu, Nepal, and in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, (Vietnam). Also in the centre of Durban, South Africa, they are a common sight.

Books, films, television, music and modern art

  • An early Rudyard Kipling story has the title The Phantom Rickshaw (1885). In it a young Englishman has a romance aboard a ship bound for India. He ends the affair and becomes engaged to another woman, causing his original love to die of a broken heart. After that, on excursions around the city of Simla, he frequently sees the ghost of the deceased driving around in her yellow-panelled rickshaw, though nobody else seems to notice the phenomenon.
  • The 1936 novel Rickshaw Boy is a novel by the Chinese author Lao She about the life of a fictional Beijing rickshaw man. The English version Rickshaw Boy became a U.S. bestseller in 1945. It was an unauthorized translation that added a happy ending to the story. In 1982, the original version was made into a film of the same title.
  • In the 1940s, Eddy Howard recorded a song called The Rickety Rickshaw Man.
  • The 1958 Japanese movie Muhomatsu no issho (Rickshaw Man) by Hiroshi Inagaki tells the story of a Matsugoro, a rickshaw man who becomes a surrogate father to the child of a recently widowed woman.
  • The 1953 Bollywood film Do Bigha Zameen, directed by Bimal Roy, describes the fate of an impoverished farmer who becomes a rickshaw puller in Kolkata.
  • In the 1992 film City of Joy (whose title refers to Kolkata), Om Puri plays a rickshaw puller, revealing the economic and emotional hardship that these underpaid workers face on a day-to-day basis.
  • In the episode The Bookstore of the American sitcom Seinfeld, Kramer and Newman import rickshaws to New York City, for the purpose of running a business. They intend to employ members of the city's homeless population; however, one steals their rickshaw. The two recover the rickshaw, and Newman forces Kramer to transport him uphill, a voyage Kramer is unable to make.
  • In Pearl S. Buck's 1931 novel The Good Earth, hero Wang Lung leaves his land to travel southward during a drought. He ends up in the city of Kiangsu, where he becomes a rickshaw puller in order to support his family.
  • The 2006 documentary film Men of burden Pedaling towards a Horizon, set in the city of Pondicherry, a Union Territory in southeast India, uncovers the story of disappearing cycle rickshaw drivers living in abject poverty.
  • English graffiti artist and activist Banksy portrays a modernised representation of a rickshaw in a piece where an overweight rich couple with a mobile phone (in colour) are being ferried by a young black boy and his rickshaw (in black and white).[17]
  • That 70's Show season 3 episode 24 "Backstage Pass" Kelso and Jackie mention a rickshaw in which their friend Fez has to pull.


    1.a b c Trillin, Calvin. "Last Days of the Rickshaw." National Geographic. Volume 213, Number 4. April 2008. 104.

    2.Chamberlain, Basil Hall (1891). Things Japanese: being notes on various subjects connected with Japan for the use of travellers and others. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.. pp. 241-242. http://books.google.com/books?id=qcMYAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA242.

    3."Modern Tokyo" Accompanied by The Fitz Patrick Traveltalk Orchestra, Under the Direction of Rosario Bourdon

    4.Parker, F. Calvin (1990). Jonathan Goble of Japan. New York: University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-7639-7.

    5."Corson Poley Center". Burlington County Historical Society. http://www.burlingtoncountyhistoricalsociety.org/museum.php. Retrieved 2011-09-28.

    6.Powerhouse Museum, 2005; The Jinrikisha story, 1996

    7.Ethekwini Municipality Communications Department, edited by Fiona Wayman, Neville Grimmet and Angela Spencer. "Zulu Rickshaws". Durban.gov.za.http://www.durban.gov.za/durban/discover/history/our-town/rickshaws. Retrieved 2010-07-02.



    10.Trillin, Calvin. "Last Days of the Rickshaw." National Geographic. Volume 213, Number 4. April 2008. 101-104.

    11.a b c Trillin, Calvin. "Last Days of the Rickshaw." National Geographic. Volume 213, Number 4. April 2008. 100.

    12.Trillin, Calvin. "Last Days of the Rickshaw." National Geographic. Volume 213, Number 4. April 2008. 96.

    13.WebIndia, 2005.

    14.Trillin, Calvin. "Last Days of the Rickshaw." National Geographic. Volume 213, Number 4. April 2008. 97.

    15.Trillin, Calvin. "Last Days of the Rickshaw." National Geographic. Volume 213, Number 4. April 2008. 101.

    16.SAQUIB CHOWDHURY (3 February 2012). "Rickshaws Around the World". http://theindependentbd.com/weekly-independent/93119-rickshaws-around-the-world.html.

    17.Banksy - Inside

  • " Powerhouse Museum Sydney, Description of object H626, Japanese rickshaw. Accessed 20 September 2005. Contains information about the history of rickshaws.
  • " The Jinrikisha story[dead link], The East, November-December 1996. History of the rickshaw in Japan.
  • " (French) Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle, Préséances[dead link]. Information on Les Deux Carrosses and vinaigrettes
  • " Elisabeth Eide, The coolies of Calcutta - Indian rickshaw drivers[dead link], World Press Review, Jan 1993. Describes situation of rickshaw drivers in Calcutta.
  • " The New York Times, 10 September 1877, p. 2 The Old and New Japan by correspondent TWK. This article, which describes rickshaw travel in 1877, including prices paid for rickshaws and labor, can be seen at http://news.quickfound.net/intl/tokyo_news.html

    This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Pulled rickshaw", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.