Vroom with a view
Velotaxis make sightseeing an eco-friendly and enjoyable ride on three wheels.
AUTUMN will be over when November ends. It has been a damp, gloomy season and the rainy weather had often put a damper on our weekend outings.
Last autumn, we witnessed some interesting things when we went to Yamashita Park in Naka-ku, Yokohama. In the sunny weather, many Japanese and foreign tourists enjoyed rides in velotaxis while viewing the autumn foliage and scenery. The golden hue of the gingko trees lining both sides of the road was spectacular.
The name “velotaxi” derives from the Latin word “velo” for bicycle. A velotaxi is a pollution-free threewheeler which originated in 1997 in Berlin, Germany. Its pedicab model has now become widely used in many other countries.
Kyoto first adopted the velotaxi service in May 2002. It is managed by a non-profit environmental organisation. Due to its popularity as an environment-friendly means of transporting sightseers around in Kyoto, the service has expanded to many major cities and towns throughout Japan. Nevertheless, the fares vary in each region.
The colourful advertisements displayed on the bodies of the velotaxis are sponsored by companies to promote their products as well as their corporate image as supporters of the ecofriendly concept, making velotaxis a mobile advertising medium.
Velotaxis started running in Yokohama in March 2007. A velotaxi can seat two adults, with two elementary schoolchildren sitting on the adults’ laps. The basic fare starts at ¥300 (RM11) per adult and ¥150 (RM5.60) per elementary schoolchild or disabled person. The fare for a preschooler or pet is ¥100 (RM3.75). Children below two years old travel for free. Elementary schoolchildren taking a velotaxi must be accompanied by an adult.
The fare is determined by a point system. Passengers are charged ¥100 for each point of destination. A ride from Redbrick Warehouse to Chinatown for two adults and an
(from left) A jinrikisha; a tricycle used for grocery shopping; and a woman’s own version of the velotaxi. elementary schoolkid costs ¥1,500 (RM56). The drivers also offer a 30-minute ride at ¥2,500 (RM94), or ¥4,000 (RM150) per hour.
On fine days, male and female drivers ply their services from 11am to 7pm, carrying passengers at a leisurely speed of about 8kph. The trained drivers are young and energetic. Being people-friendly, they interact with their passengers as they manoeuvre their nimble vehicles for a short tour.
While walking on the sidewalk at Yamashita Park, something amusing held our gaze and made us chuckle. A mother was riding on a bicycle with two children sitting in what looked like a mini velotaxi cabin attached to the back of her bicycle. Never before had we seen such an unusual mode of transport. It was cute and an ingenious way to take her children around freely! But I digress. I thought tricycles are usually ridden by small children. However, several shoppers in Japan use them for grocery shopping, especially in shopping arcades. The tricycle is equipped with a basket in front of the handle bars and another bigger basket behind the seat for the groceries. All one needs is pedal power. Convenient, isn’t it? No aching hands from carrying the heavy goods and good exercise for the legs.
A few weeks ago, we went to Yamashita Park again. It was Nov 3, a national holiday celebrating Culture Day. The roads were congested.
“Why are there so many policemen today?” my son asked, wondering if there had been an accident somewhere.
“Security measures for the APEC summit here on Nov 13 and 14,” Koji answered.
“Already? But that’s 10 days away!” I remarked, looking at several cars being flagged down for random checks.
“All the parking lots are full. I saw some drivers getting traffic fines. Papa, we better go home,” Ken suggested.
When the APEC summit was held in Pacific Yokohama convention centre in Minato Mirai area, more than 10,000 policemen were dispatched to beef up the security and regulate the traffic there. Vehicles and pedestrians were barred from the area around the summit’s venue. Thus velotaxi drivers took a break from Nov 8 to 14.
Velotaxis remind me of the trishaws in Malaysia. With their sporty and stylish structures, they are what I called “modern trishaws”.
One might think that it must be awfully hard for the driver to pedal the velotaxi. Unlike Malaysian trishaws, velotaxis are ergonomically designed with an electricpowered motor which aids the driver to ferry heavy passengers or pedal up slopes.
As for me, I would prefer velotaxis to jinrikishas. Jinrikishas exist in certain sightseeing and historical sites of Japan. Whether the puller is a young man or woman, drawing a jinrikisha definitely needs more muscle work. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992.
Three times the fun: Locals and tourists going for rides in velotaxis at Yamashita Park, Yokohama.
Round and round and round we go:
Invigorating: Sight-seeing in a velotaxi.