KYOTO, Japan — The Velotaxi, a modern version of the pedicab and manufactured by a German company, is attracting customers in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, especially among older people who remember the original pedicabs.
"You can enjoy the scenery at your leisure, with a sense of liveliness," said Aoba Fukada, a Velotaxi driver.
And with an electric motor, it can easily climb up a sloping road with two passengers in the back seat.
The streamlined, three-wheeled bicycle — about nine feet long and five feet tall — is used in some 15 European countries and was introduced to Kyoto in 2002.
Spreading in Japan
Since then, 60 taxis have been operated in six other Japanese cities, including Tokyo, Osaka and Naha. They might also be used at the World Expo to be held in Aichi Prefecture next spring.
Already, more than 20,000 people have taken Velotaxi rides in Kyoto.
"With no gas emissions, it is environmentally friendly," said Noriyuki Morita, a representative of the Ecological Cities Promoting Association, the Japanese agent for the company Velotaxi GmbH. Moreover, he said, "in an era like this, people recognize the significance of slow driving."
Pedicabs are also used in many parts of Asia and India, where pollution problems could be eased if electric pedicabs provide an alternative to gasoline or diesel powered vehicles.
In Europe, more than 10 companies have been established in Germany and Britain since the 1990s to manufacture or operate motor-assisted pedicabs.
From pub crawls to vacation use
Guido Struss, whose company Velotaxi has produced 280 Velocabs in Straubenhardt, Germany, for export to other European countries, said his company has been making them since 1993, with a design based on the Indian pedicabs.
In London, there are about 60 Velocabs, which are mostly used by people going to theaters or movies, or even by those on pub crawls.
Struss said the electric motor on each Velocab rids passengers of the uncomfortable feeling that their driver is being forced to do hard labor.
He said his company will next produce Velocabs for vacation use and export them to the small Caribbean island nation of Barbados.
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