Pedal Power: Cargo Trikes and Pedicabs

Pedal-powered vehicles, such as cargo trikes and pedicabs, are a more eco-friendly way to get humans, catering, parcels, recycling and more from point A to B.
By Jean Weiss
December 2011/January 2012
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Metro Pedal Power offers a wide range of services, including transport of recyclables in the city of Cambridge, Mass.

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Cargo trikes and pedicabs, long a familiar sight on Asian and European streets, are finally bringing pedal power to the United States. In addition to human transport, the three-wheeled, pedal-powered vehicles (also known as rickshaws) are increasingly used for catering and parcel delivery, recycling collection and much more — minus the gasoline usage and air pollution of conventional vehicles.

Metro Pedal Power, a delivery company that transports items throughout the Boston area, uses non-motorized cargo trikes for a number of reasons. “They’re easier to maneuver through narrow streets and tangled traffic,” says owner Wenzday Jane. “Their maintenance costs are minimal and they don’t pollute. You don’t need vehicle insurance and you don’t pay for parking.”

Some of Metro’s cargo trikes have a small electric-powered motor that kicks in for help on hills or with heavy loads (the company hauls loads as heavy as 500 pounds). They replace cars, vans and trucks to deliver products, haul supplies, house mobile cafes and transport community supported agriculture program shares. “Trikes are part of an environmental movement to have fewer cars and trucks on the roads and make urban streets more livable,” Jane says.

As one may expect, there are downsides to using a cargo trike. “You ride when it’s raining, in the sleet and when it’s really hot out,” Jane says. But the positives far outweigh the negatives: Trikes are an eco-friendly link in the trend toward localizing economies. “Trikes appeal to people’s sensibilities. When we deliver with a trike, we are transforming an everyday activity into something that is more environmentally sustainable.”

For a state-by-state directory of pedicab transportation services, go to International Bicycle Fund’s pedicab directory. A cargo trike can be purchased for about $2,000 to $6,000 (or buy DIY frame kits for just over $1,000) from companies such as Main Street Pedicabs, Organic Engines and Cycles Maximus.

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