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The Chinese Year of the Dragon began yesterday and although many people were likely wondering what the New Year holds in store for them, Pakistan’s chingchi rickshaws have been puttering away, uninterrupted.

Their name is derived from our practice of mangling foreign words, this time the name of the Chinese company, Qingqi, which makes most of these rickshaws.

The rickshaw is a two-sided carriage strapped on to a motorcycle, usually manufactured with a four-stroke engine. Meant for short distances, they are popular in the densely packed localities in Karachi, Lahore and even a few rural villages.

And they are empowering anyone who is entrepreneurial and willing to work for it. They cost approximately Rs 90,000 and ‘drivers’ earn upwards of Rs 400 a day in the major cities. In rural areas, passengers can hitch a ride for Rs 10 – since the carriage can accommodate up to six people, drivers usually charge the same fare per person, almost like a bus.

Many small businesses are also seeing the potential of the chingchi rickshaw as an economical vehicle for small deliveries; rice and textile suppliers, grocery stores and other businesses often hire rickshaws to transport goods and make deliveries to customers. As businesses are able to move inventory faster, and rickshaw drivers recoup a decent living, these low cost vehicles provide a win-win opportunity for both parties.

However, the chingchi has its share of critics. Competitors (driving older rickshaws) claim that the chingchi is environmentally unsafe. As if that isn’t like the pot calling the kettle black! Fact is, there are now over 10,000 of the rickshaws in Karachi alone and with the Government proclaiming the Pak-Cheen Dosti as being “deeper than the seas and higher than the mountains,” (meaning more trade between the two countries), the chingchis are here to stay.

– Shayan Shakeel