Monday, August 29, 2011

The biassed opinions of a few

Here in Darwin at this time of year we have a wonderful Festival of Arts that runs for about 3 weeks. It ended this weekend and once again has provided Darwin with some wonderful displays of visual and performance art and some great music. 
There were some wonderful outdoor experiences this year including a Mini, Short Film festival on wheels by way of  Projector Bike. From Melbourne. Tons of bicycles on the street and to top it all off people this year had the opportunity to be ridden from show to show in Pedicabs!

Projector Bike
THE Projector Bike
Funnin round on bikes and cabs

I had a great experience during the Darwin Festival riding in the back of a pedicab. The city seemed happier, friendlier and moving at a pace similar to how I found the city when I arrived here 15 years ago. Ahhh the soft night air, the open sky and the smiles of people, who, like me enjoyed the fact that a slower, more relaxed way had returned to Darwin town. The riders were ultra friendly and were also enjoying the atmosphere of the Darwin Festival as seen from the perspective of a self propelled dream machine... (my personal opinion)
Unfortunately and absolutely predictably there has already been public backlash against the Pedicabs of Darwin. Based on the portion of a morning Talk-back radio show I managed to catch on the way to work, I'd say Pedicabs are already receiving more than their fair share of flack from opinionated members of the public, irritable and impatient drivers and of course disgruntled taxi and bus drivers. Unfortunately I didn't manage to hear the whole story but it seemed that the owner of the company and riders were not interviewed and the segment appeared to be angled toward giving air to complaints against pedicabs rather than discussing the potential benefits to having them cruising our city streets.

ABC TV News also ran an short story on Pedicabs based on their perceived nuisance impact on Darwin city streets.

Of course this is not uncommon. Cities from Mumbai to New York have reported conflict between taxi drivers and Pedicab/Rickshaw/Becak riders. More often than not it appears to me that the motor vehicle driver's sense of dominion over the road and their perceived sense of entitlement to use it at the expense of vehicles of any other type or mode is the true cause of most of the aggravation. If you consider the size of Darwin and it's population, the amount of space on our roads, the number of streets that pedicabs actually operate on and the fact that we are a tourist oriented city it is very hard to understand why there would be any need for conflict over road space.

I am sure the sudden appearance of up to 10 Pedicabs on our roads will likely have caught many drivers by surprise and, as with cyclists, motorcyclists, horses or any other road users, Darwin drivers appear, as usual, at a loss as to how to behave when confronted with anything other than another car on the road. But surely with a little bit of education about sharing the road, and some friendly encouragement to acknowledge that, just like bicycles, motorcycles even ambulances, Pedicabs are simply another legitimate way of transporting human beings in a manner that is most appropriate to their needs. The right of people to travel according to their need should not really have to be held to account by the demands of the most dominant road users.

Having said all this in the defense of Pedicabs (and their riders) it would be fair also to expect riders to show an equal amount of respect for other road users.

One of the major problems I see concerning this and many other issues on our roads is the attitude in our society which tends toward legislation and legalism, Rights and Wrongs, relying on enforcement by officers of the Law. This way of living seems to create a sense of entitlement rather than fostering attitudes of courtesy and mutual respect and certainly does not create an environment that leads to good 'roadmanship'.
Basically people are more concerned with being Right than being happy. The space that Pedicab culture (if such a thing ever existed) seeks to inhabit is urban but open, slightly less organized by 'laws' but governed instead by the rhythm and movement of people on the street. In a tourist town such as Darwin which seeks to encourage pedestrian use of its central streets and malls (Only a few blocks really) Pedicabs should rise to become the contemporary vehicle of choice. If seen in this context they have some very obvious virtues. Pedicabs are quiet (OK currently they use loud music which may contradict the theories of good 'Roadmanship'), non polluting, fun, fast (compared to walking), slow enough for shoppers or tourists to stop when something catches their eye, healthy and cheep. They are less hazardous to pedestrians and possibly even have the potential to reduce congestion...  

One thing I am sure of is that tensions between Pedicab riders and cabbies definitely seem to be rising. Before leaving the festival on Saturday night I happened to observe a friendly exchange between a Pedicab rider and his passengers. I thought to myself how pleasant Darwin is during the Festival. Then as the pedicab pulled away from the curb at the bottom end of Smith Street just opposite Browns Mart a taxi came charging up the street from considerable distance away (plenty of room to go pass slowly) and tailgated the pedicab beeping his horn! There was a brief exchange of verbal abuse and the taxi sped off, recklessly in my opinion! 

What a sad way to end the night. They can protest all they like. A slow Pedicab, bicycle, or pedestrian in the middle of the street may be a slight annoyance to an impatient driver, but reckless behavior behind the wheel of a heavy motor vehicle is in my opinion far greater menace to public safety.

bikes and rainbow taxi
 Kid's eye view of the beautiful world from a Rainbow Cab

Have a nice Day.


Syed Saiful Alam said...

Wrong-minded modernization: rickshaw bans

A new wave of rickshaw bans has just occurred in Dhaka. How appropriate were those bans? How sound are the arguments against rickshaws?

The rickshaw has for decades been attacked by the media and others in Bangladesh as being slow, causing traffic jams and thus congestion, being an inhuman occupation for the pullers, and holding Dhaka back from modernization. Just how true are those claims?

First, does the experience with rickshaw bans to date suggest that such bans effectively reduce traffic congestion? On the contrary; even government reports show that rickshaw bans do nothing to improve traffic, and sometimes traffic speed even further deteriorates following rickshaw bans. In addition, people’s travel cost as well as time increase. Are VIP roads free of traffic congestion? Will the government blame rickshaws for congestion until there are no rickshaws left, and then what will they blame? Cities around the world with no rickshaws waste millions of dollars in lost time and wasted fuel due to traffic jams caused entirely by cars. Why are we so eager to join them?

David J said...

Still no relief from this obsession with modernization!
At the expense of a 'civilized' world, progress is not measured by how much fuel you consume!

"Give any one species too much rope and they'll f-ck it up!"

chief gabril said...

From the same people across Central Asia and South America through the organization Mototaxi intermediary "Stans's fantastic Mongolian Rally perhaps three best-known adventure are: running a rickshaw in India.

Bicycle Rickshaw

David J said...

Thanks for the info Chief