Rough trade on the streets of Bogota, much like here

Loved by the people for their extreme utility, abhorred by the state as a symbol of backwardness, cycle rickshaws – or pedicabs – are not a new phenomenon in India.  Originally from Japan, the hand-drawn rickshaw was introduced in Simla in India around 1880. It was, then, a vehicle to carry the social elite. By 1950, cycle rickshaws evolved into a popular mode of urban transport. Today, cycle rickshaws provide door-to-door transport at an affordable price to people in urban areas across India. Cycle rickshaws also provide easy employment to those wanting employment. At a time when economic opportunity in the hinterland is dwindling, many village folk come to the city and earn a living by pulling cycle rickshaws.

The state, however, has a repugnance to cycle rickshaws. At most places, the state views them as the cause of traffic congestion and a symbol of backwardness. Many Indian cities, in a bid to become “world class” are banning rickshaws. Cycle Rickshaw pullers are regularly manhandled by the police and their vehicles confiscated. To say that cycle rickshaw pullers are considered the most wretched in the grand array of transport modes in India, even though they provide pollution free, affordable mobility to millions, is not indulging in hyperbole.

If not for equity and social justice alone, how prudent is it to purge an environment friendly mode of transport, in the face of a gargantuan environmental crisis? Today, we bring to you, dear reader, a snippet of the growing popularity of cycle rickshaws in the capital of Colombia – Bogotá D.C. It appears that at times people are smarter than governments.

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This piece reports on a wave of unanticipated “free enterprise” mobility solutions that have cropped up in the city of Bogotá in the last years. One bottom line is that these pedicabs represent a challenge for government on several scores. But at the same time they are providing affordable transportation for people (voters) who need to make those trips. Now that you know this, what follows is a rough and ready machine translation of an article that appeared in the local paper, El Tiempo, yesterday. If you are interested in the topic you can learn a lot from these lines. And if you wish it in beautiful language, well strap on your best Spanish and click here. Seguir pedaleando.

Five thousand bicycle taxis take to the streets of Bogotá

Operating illegally in some 70 areas, they have their own ‘pico y placa’ and created 30 organizations.

In the past six years, the streets of Bogotá have seen each day, between two and three pedicabs engaged in transporting passengers without legal authorization. This means that each year, more than 800 human-powered vehicles, a tricycle with a car for two people, which operate on the principle of the bicycle.

Today, according to bicitaxistas organizations in the city run between 5,000 and 5,400. In 2004 there were 450.

The Ministry of Transportation has no official census, but does not contradict the figure. Even in March 2009, in a report submitted to the Council, the entity was aware of 73 points which were operating pedicabs in eleven locations. Of 171 illegal transportation points, 73 were covered by these tricycles.

The official map showing Kennedy, Bosa and Suba and the three localities where the business had flourished (see map). “When we started to investigate and review, we assume that there were over 3,000, but in different operational they identify as 5,000 carnetizados” said Undersecretary of Mobility Services Angela Arenas, who admits that the phenomenon “overflowed” and qualifies as “proliferation concern.”

The explosion of business is to fund the law of supply and demand: bicitaxistas tested carry passengers in places where TransMilenio and transport companies did not provide the service, users simply jumped. “I had to walk like 20 blocks and is very far. Not stand walk,” said Luz Marina Gama user for two years.

Such as they are declared illegal, informal, and no one can regulate your business, bicitaxistas organized their own routes. Since then, they have reproduced like rabbits. “In 2007 we told the Ministry of Transportation that would have avalanche, said and done, now realized that he grew up,” said Jaime Gonzalez, president of the Ecological Federation Tricimóviles of Colombia (Fecotricol), which bring together some 32 associations and corporations that have arisen in the past two years, many of which are registered in the Chamber of Commerce. Today, there is a rickshaw for every three buses (city buses circulating 16 000) and a rickshaw taxis per 9 (in Bogotá are 50 000 licensed taxis).

Profitable

The proliferation of pedicabs is not free. Making a rickshaw takes five or six days and costs between 1.5 and 2.7 million pesos, depending on the finishes and quality of materials. And you can pay by installments.

On the street, a bicitaxista can produce daily, between 30 thousand and 80 thousand dollars, depending on the area and route, which may represent between 900 thousand and two and a half million pesos per month.

The fare is between 700 pesos for a distance of one to two kilometers, on average. For the more adventurous, have also set up his own ‘fleet’ of pedicabs and are between three and five. Work one and the other charges 10 pesos per shift of eight hours.

In business you can find women-headed households, unemployed young people, welders, security guards and even a nurse and a bakery owner who sold his business to devote himself to bicitaxismo.

The influx overwhelmed pedicab routes were operating. Many have left the neighborhoods and low-traffic roads where the transport did not interfere with legal and frequently crosses paths with the buses in high-traffic routes such as the Avenue City of Cali.

That has increased police controls and, in response, have blocked bicitaxistas TransMilenio. “The sanction with subpoenas of 68,700 pesos and immobilization of 5, 20 and 40 days for transporting passengers without authorization,” says Arenas.

This year, through September, the police had 350 in 32 operational assets. “But it’s like to play cat and mouse, because of strides in a way and appear in another,” says Arenas by warning that there are only 1,300 police, in three shifts to handle all the traffic.

Pico y Placa (Bogata’s excellent (and exceptional) odd/even scheme for cars entering the city)

“To this we must put stop, because at any given time can be harmful to us too much of this growth,” said Saul Rodriguez, Asotransartisuba.

Therefore, the bicitaxistas were organized: they put a helmet and vest, were assigned car number and his clothing and now self-imposed a kind of peak and plate, to take turns and rotate routes: even and odd days ago by afternoon, and vice versa.

Now have more than 30 associations. “They are partnering because we want to become a lobbyist with the argument that labor is an option for them,” said Arenas. “Our goal is the approval of the service,” complains Jaime Gonzalez, president of Fecotricol.

The question is what role to assume the state. Are allowed to grow unchecked, as happened with the motorbike taxis in cities across the country? For now, ruled that the District will be part of the Integrated and intensified police repression. What is clear is that Bogotá was filled pedicab. “We would be collected, but tomorrow another makes one and takes it to work, because people know that this is a good business,” says Saul Rodriguez.

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Now that you have read (and interpreted the article) in machine translation, let us ask you this. Do you feel that you have been enriched by this experience. Were the language irregularities a barrier to your understanding? To the extent that you lost interest and have no desire to repeat this experience ever? If you have any thoughts on this, please share your comments with us all here. Thanks and seguir pedaleando.

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2 responses to “Rough trade on the streets of Bogota, much like here

  1. Bicitaxis have indeed proliferated here in Bogota, and they provide a valuable service, particularly near many express bus (Transmilenio) stations. However, as the article says, the city has never legalized them, and police sometimes confisticate the cabs.

    I’ve talked to them and looked into this, and it’s not clear whether the legal changes need to be made on a municipal or national level. However, ‘the word on the street’ is that the regular taxi drivers oppose the pedicabs’ legalization to avoid competition.

    This has been the situation for years. Unfortunately, the pedal taxis lack powerful allies. Perhaps things will change if Enrique Peñalosa is reelected mayor.

    Mike Ceaser

  2. Excellent. I was transported to a Spanish land myself while reading the machine translation.

    It sort of feels nice to know that this despise for the informal is not just an Indian phenonmen but spreads to Latin America as well. A place which, for some odd reason, I feel has more sensible people than my own. Sort of feels yours is not the only stupid race. But also feels nice to know that despite the policy abhorence for the ‘pedicabs’, they remain and very strong.

    Makes me think of why we don’t have rickshaw unions in the cities. Its probably a good thing we don’t. Somehow as a consumer I feel any unionised service develops a sense of ‘arrogance’ (which is different from Confidence – note the delhi scooters) which does not make them very pleasant to deal with. But then maybe if they were unionised they could also go on strike. And the city would realise how badly they are missed.

    Also makes me feel like human beings want to see change. They want to see ‘development’. And if we feel the rickshaws are very valuable and sustainable means of transport as well as employment. Then maybe we could work on ways to ‘develop’ this form of transport so people can see ‘sustainable’ ‘change’. Maybe colour them in fancy colours, have better designs for them, some on-route entertainment such as radios, give them ‘brands’ in the form of giving them different labels and cool names.
    What say?

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