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Monday, July 20, 1998 Published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK

World: South Asia

Does Dhaka need rickshaws?

Rickshaws: nothigh-tech, but environmentally friendly

The Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has more cycle rickshaws than any other city in the world, and now a conference has started there to look at the future of these brightly painted, human-powered vehicles. Frances Harrison reports from Dhaka:

Every day rickshaws in Dhaka make seven million 7m passenger trips, covering 11 million miles - nearly double the output of the London underground.

More than half the vehicles on the roads of the city are rickshaws, providing employment for at least a million people.

But planning officials have always held the humble rickshaw in disdain. They see it as a symbol of under-development.

As a result there's never been proper research into improving the design of the vehicle, whose gears are set too high and whose suspension is poor.

Too often the approach has been to suggest banning rickshaws altogether.

[ image: Rickshaws helped evacuation during floods]
Rickshaws helped evacuation during floods
But it's not at all clear that would solve the city's traffic jams and it would leave a lot of impoverished people without employment.

Instead, this conference, jointly funded by the United Nations and Dhaka City Corporation, is looking at ways of segregating fast and slow-moving vehicles, using separate lanes and special underpasses for rickshaws.

And it is reviewing a training project for rickshaw pullers which taught them to recognise road signs and also offered them basic accident insurance.

In one of the worst polluted and fastest growing cities in the world, a small minority feels the environmentally friendly rickshaw should still have a future.

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