Pedicab Design Program

People Moving People

The same basic design of “Pedicabs” is in use everywhere. A few privileged people relax in comfortable enclosures, as, strangely, somebody pulls them around, while completely exposed to the elements. This 19th century design is remnant of another age, where human life was virtually disposable and it has come to reduce a key subject, people moving people with minimal impact in urban surroundings, into an amusement park ride.

In a few places they are a major form of transport but in most just a relic, used almost entirely by tourists. The lives of drivers are often miserable with survival matters paramount. This condition exists now alongside a persistent and loudly-stated conclusion that we are strangling ourselves, chemically and physically, and must do whatever we can to reduce the preponderance of both large objects and dangerous substances in our environment. Since a pedicab consumes a third of the space of an automobile and generates a small fraction of its pollution, this is clearly a subject that deserves our serious attention. We do this in order to evolve this mode of travel sufficiently to enhance the likelihood of our eventual survival as a species and a society.

Discarding 19th century designs means finding 21st century designs to replace them. This can be a joyous exercise, taken up by mechanics, designers, artists and sculptors, bike lovers and city lovers, the young and the old, who know that something dramatic must be done to change our surroundings and consumption patterns and seeming inability to effect these crucial factors in our lives. This can be a genuinely inclusive process, since the tools and materials needed to accomplish this task are widespread and within the reach of most, can consist largely of “up-cycled” components.

Fortunately, the solution to this problem involves activating its creative aspects. There is obviously no one, perfect vehicle. The best solutions here are fully responsive to the local conditions that exist where the creators live. Is it sunny all the time, or rainy, cold or windy? Does it change all of the time, even on the same day? What is the physical condition of the roadways? Are electric helper motors permitted and can operators afford them? How about charging their batteries? Is the local government and schools, non-profits or businesses willing to be supportive, donate space and expertise to the project?

The human factor is important too. Are there plenty of healthy people, perhaps of different ages, who would relish the opportunity to spend part of their day building something and transporting their neighbors around? Could they use the income from this? Are there other functions that they could perform at the same time which would be of benefit and also provide additional sustenance? Deliveries? Vending? Escorting the elderly and transporting those in wheelchairs? Imparting local wisdom about local employment, shelter and other resources?

The framework of a vehicle should be minimal in weight but fully able to provide the strength needed to safely perform its tasks. This requires some engineering knowledge and real-world experience. Apart from its sturdy platform, the rest of a vehicle should be anything that can be construed by the makers, that is safe to use and provides the operator with a full measure of comfort and convenience. Leaving the rest up to the creators makes good sense, since we do not know in advance what these creations might consist of, nor should we. Is there anything wrong with a street filled with novel and interesting objects, some even beautiful?

Although any and all ideas and fabrications are welcome here, from crayon drawings to fully-functional, full-scale models, one potential here is that some vehicle designs will be suitable to be duplicated for more widespread use, since they are so well conceived of and executed, that there is a market for them elsewhere. Some will be individual works of art, meant to be one of a kind. Maybe, in an ideal world, local artists and craftspeople would be the ones to design and construct their own local versions of these needed conveyances. In reality, it is unlikely that his process will unfold everywhere. (Handwork and craftsmanship have suffered different fates in different cultures and economies. The advantage here may go to places that have not yet been fully industrialized.) Where local community, educational and artistic organizations become involved in this process, the results could be dramatic and maximally conspicuous as well.

Our public spaces could resemble art galleries rather than parking lots. As temperatures rise and streets become more paralyzed, we had better not lose this perfect opportunity to radically upgrade an important element of our transport system. This is not a contest.

All contributions are worthy and welcome and the best ideas will likely generate the most attention. If it is determined that some prizes should awarded for different types of achievement, the cheapest, strangest, most practical, easiest to build, etc. that might happen eventually, but for now, most importantly, this is meant to be a lively and colorful demonstration of the common nature of so many of our most urgent concerns and how capable we are of dealing with them creatively, constructively, healthfully and maybe even cooperatively.

Potential Co-factors
United Nations
NYC/NYS DOT, Education, Climate depts.
NRDC/Sierra Club/Greenpeace/ITDP
Pinterest/Popular Mechanics
United Spinal Association
Metalwork/Woodwork Unions

First Steps
A website, poster, list of contacts, YouTube channel, Facebook group, moderator


Tel.: 212 431 0600

What is wrong with pedicabs?


1. Passengers are provided with weather protected, comfortable seats and, absurdly, the driver with neither

2. They are all identical, a 19th century design that suggests a colonial mindset, nostalgia about cruel class differences

3. Can only carry three people. No restaurant has a table for three. Four and as many as six or eight persons can be transported

4. They are too expensive to rent rides on. Now up to 8 or 10 dollars per minute. Only usable by the rich

5. There are too few of them. They are only available in the park and a few tourist areas, Rock Center, Empire State building etc.

6. The name. They should be pedalcabs, more accurate and more environmental, a true hybrid endeavor, with no throttles

7. How they are powered. Originally just feet but now aided by electric motors, must retain their human-powered element

8. Drivers are given no training, orientation, guidance of any kind, are often doing this for only a very short time, as a lark

9. They can not use bike paths, therefor must share the road with speeding cars and trucks, so need to be more conspicuous

10. They harass operators of horse carriages with overly aggressive sales behavior, and nothing is ever done about this

11. They can not carry wheelchairs because of their primitive designs and typical lack of attention to accessibility

12. They are regarded as amusements, not treated as serious transportation, in spite of a dangerous climate crisis unfolding

13. There are almost no women or older drivers, though the use of small electric motors make this possible

14. Many are operated by those with no insurance, license or permit, and rates are barely posted, leading to overcharges

15. There is virtually no enforcement of the rules and regulations and requirements, so little attention is paid to therm

16. They are not evolving, as they easily could, into a full range of human-scale and human-powered vehicles

17. No options have been offered, for them to be able to be stored inexpensively and conveniently for maximum utility

18. Occasional police raids, easily dodged by malefactors, do almost nothing to create a reliable and well-managed fleet

19. Drivers routinely break the rules by not displaying their rates and identities and nothing is done about this exploitative behavior

20. The city suffers continuous criticism regarding dishonest operators and does virtually nothing to save its reputation

21. No provision has been made for them to be available at transportation terminals or in transit deserts

22. There is no attempt to determine the potential of these devices to improve the life of all of those visiting, living and working here

So what is right about them?

1. They suggest a world with more diversity of transport, with less hazard and harm

2. They are economical to own and operate and, potentially, to use, with better regs

3. They don’t take up a lot of room, about one third the size of an automobile

4. They move at a relaxed pace, at the same speed as an ordinary bicycle

5. They are clean, quiet and don’t pollute, can even be unique and beautiful

6. They are fun. They are open to the air, like bikes

7. They provide employment and entrepreneurial opportunities

8. They can be re-conceptualized to become a major part of sustainable urban transport

9. They can be imaginative and wonderful visually, a reason to enjoy being outdoors

10. They can be in a variety of roles, Welcome Wagon to Labor Pool, to First Aid Station

To Pedicabbers Everywhere

There are pedicabs in hundreds of cities around the world. In some places, they are a major form of transportation. Unfortunately, many of those in this profession work under very stressful conditions, besides the usual, traffic etc. Each city and country is different and there is tremendous variability in status, income, laws, etc. What is common is the minimal influence that those working in this trade have historically had over their conditions and the fact that improvements have been rare and problems widespread.

It seems time to bring these issues forward in a more effective way. Wide access to inexpensive ways to communicate, through Zoom, etc., suggests the wisdom of beginning a wide-ranging discussion among those in the industry about better ways to assert the value of this activity and methods of using it to benefit both the operators and the general public. Developing the potential of this modality as both a way to improve the transportation system and environment as well as the lives of those engaged in this profession is important and must be done in an open, democratic, and creative way.

I intend to begin this process now and am looking forward to evolving it over time into one that is effective and positive. Since it will involve different people with different priorities and goals, languages, and cultures, I know that this will not be easy, but it is so necessary that I am certain that it will be worth the effort. This industry has many various shapes and practices in different places. This undertaking will not result in a single solution or even one that may contain recommendations that will apply equally everywhere, but bringing more light to the subject will undoubtedly make further conversations easier, with a broader collection of ideas and suggestions for improvement of conditions. The authorities that control this activity in different cities and countries have varied priorities and needs and the operators are in very different conditions, but nowhere is the situation ideal.

The first step here is the creation of an organization whose sole purpose will be the establishment of a medium through which participants may make their presence felt and a way to express themselves while also, hopefully, listening to others. A weekly online forum will be scheduled and a way for those who are interested to check in. If this turns out to be a modest effort, managing it will not be difficult. If it grows into a full-scale and widespread undertaking, with extensive participation, it will probably have to become differentiated into different languages and forms, but the initial phase will be in English and focused on the United States. Establishing links among those from everywhere who are engaged in this profession can help to demonstrate that problems and potentials are similar in many places and the urgent need for greater influence by those who are making their living this way to be helpful towards others who share their profession.

A website, has been established to help accomplish this task. If you are interested in taking part in this, please visit the site and register your identity, and a way to contact you. Over time you will be informed of discussions and events taking place. This bottom-up effort is intended to provide a voice to those who understand the possibilities here and want to help in realizing the potential of this profession to establish its true value and create the conditions that will allow long overdue improvements to take place.