Cycle-rickshaw pullers, who face an existential crisis, want the tourism department to extend a helping hand to them so that they remain in the transport trade in Madurai, a popular destination for domestic and foreign travellers. the existence of rickshaws in Madurai, one of the traditionally and culturally old city.
Though foreign tourists still take a fancy to the tricycles, with many among them taking a ride in the vehicle, the rickshaw pullers have urged the tourism officials to organise ‘rickshaw tourism’ to improve the livelihood of rickshaw pullers.
“Foreign tourists who come in groups to Meenakshi Amman temple would book 15 to 20 cycle rickshaws to glide through the city. They like to travel in the rickshaw under the open sky, moving slowly, soaking in the beauty of the city and clicking photographs,” said M Mariappan, who has been peddling a rickshaw for the last 40 years in the temple city.
“Considering my plight, a middle-aged lady from France bought me a new cycle rickshaw seven months ago,” said Mariappan, showing his rickshaw.
“We hardly earn Rs 100 after pulling the rickshaw for all day. It would be lucky if we get a foreign tourist on rickshaw. Then we would get Rs 300 to go around the city and additional Rs 100 as tip,” said K Marimuthu.
“The income from rickshaw is barely enough to make ends meet. I can just feed my family of five, but cannot provide education to my two daughters and one son,” he said.
“Cycle rickshaws are preferred only by the old age people who cannot walk. They use them as they can get down in front of their house even in a small lane,” said N Alagumalai, another rickshaw puller.
“We expect tourism department to promote the use of cycle rickshaws among foreign tourists,” Alagumalai also said.
However, the response from the tourism department is not encouraging, so far. When contacted an officer said, “We neither organise cycle rickshaws for foreign tourists nor discourage their use. Most rickshaw pullers are addicted to alcohol. It may not be possible to regulate them,” he said.