Jam in a few more

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
(Photograph) - Where to then, guv? Downtown Dhaka? Hop in. Seems like the world and his wife are heading that way. Could be a while getting there.

Hot enough for you, is it? You know what the trouble is, don't you, there's too many rickshaws on the road these days. Four hundred thousand in Dhaka alone, they reckon. It's the rickshaw capital of the world. They're not from round here though, are they? The Japanese invented them. Clever geezers those Japanese, always inventing something. They called them jinrikisha - person-powered vehicle. That's how they got their name. Jinrikisha - rickshaw. Geddit? In Manila they've got their jeepneys and in Java they call them becaks. But you can't get better than a rickshaw in my opinion. Hang about, I think we're moving. Hey, watch my paintwork - cost me an arm and a leg did that. Blinkin' "baby cabs"! Those motorised two strokes think they own the road. Got some fella in one of those backstreet workshops to do that. They'll do deities, sports stars, whatever you like. I'm a big fan of those Bollywood blockbusters myself so I said I'll have whatsername, nice bright colours, plastered all over the back seat. Besides, a lick of paint brightens the place up. Gives you something to look at while you're going nowhere fast.

I only get a dollar or two a day - a bit more if I get a job going down to the docks or picking up kids from school. You'll know about it next day when you've had six nippers piled on the back, I can tell you. It's a good job Dhaka is flat as a pancake.

Gives you a lot of time to think, working a rickshaw So I got to thinking about all these traffic jams, see. You're crawling along for hours and when you get to the end of them there's never anything there. What's that all about then? Then one day I'm hanging around waiting for a fare and I pick up this scientific journal that was lying around and blow me if it ain't got an article all about it. Turns out that traffic is a bit like water. A jam's like putting a great big iceberg in the middle of a river. One minute you're sailing along on the old H2O nice and smooth like and then WALLOP! It's the same with traffic. You can be driving along minding your own business and then next thing you know it's backed up solid. Traffic at either end of the jam moves all erratic - like steam. That's because traffic and water both change suddenly from one state to another. The law of phase transition, they call it. And it only takes something small like an accident or a slow-moving vehicle to set it off. Traffic is naturally chaotic, see, and if you mess up its fragile equilibrium it turns nasty and gets snarled up before you can say "Hangar Lane gyratory system".

Wakey, wakey in the back there, sir, we're here. Did I mention I had that Stephen Hawking in the back of my cab last week?

Web links

Highways agency site news and info on UK roads: www.highways.gov Bangladeshi photo agency including reportage on rickshawallahs: www.drik.orgarchives.html real time cctv coverage of Nottingham town centre traffic: www.nottscc.gov.ukroadstvframe.htm cyclists touring club: www.ctc.org.uk

Picture by Gilles Saussier

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