In a district where there were more than two thousand cycle rickshaws forty years ago, only five or six remain. Those that remain operate in Kollam city alone; used only to transport a few kindergarten and lower primary students to their schools and back home.
During their heydays, cycle rickshaws used to be a major mode of transport for people of all ages in the city. They were relied for taking thousands of students to school, transporting housewives for shopping, the most popular transport vehicle to home from the railway station, bus stands and boat jetty and a convenient mode of transport for many to reach their places of work.
Those were the days when these rickshaw-man powered cycle rickshaws were found plying through almost all roads in the city. Every important junction in the city had a cycle rickshaw stand. The rickshaws were in fact tri-cycles designed to carry passengers. The front portion resembled a bicycle with a seat for the rickshaw-man to power it by pedalling.
Passengers are carried inside a cabin fixed on an axle connecting the two hind wheels. The cabin had one cushioned seat to be shared by two adults and a wooden “baby-seat” for children. There was hardly any
space for luggage. But luggage was permitted and passengers hiring the rickshaws kept the luggage on their laps.
In fact the cycle rickshaws were introduced in Kollam in the late 1950s to replace the hand-pulled rickshaws which were seen to be an in-human mode of transport. Soon they got popular and were a means of livelihood for hundreds of families. Being used mostly for short distance rides their rates were fixed in annas.
But now just five of these eco friendly rickshaws can be seen mainly in Tangasseri area of the city transporting kids to the two schools there. The rickshaw-men are in their late sixties and one of them has crossed seventy two. They are Podiyan, Gopalakrishnan, Arumughan, Vishwambharan and Aya Kutty.
All of them took to the cycle rickshaw in their teens and even now it is their prime means of livelihood. And they are one group who hate summer vacation at schools for it is a time when they lose work and are compelled to go for other menial work which neither gives satisfaction nor the expected remuneration.
Though their fraternity was strong at one stage, the government never came forward with any relief fund for them and therefore they have no pension during old age. So they have to continue cycling rickshaws.
All of them state that after their time the cycle rickshaw will become extinct in Kollam.