Those droopy workhorses on Central Park South have nothing on Jeff Iftekaruddin, a 30-year-old actor, musician, and, now, rickshaw beast of burden. He can drag up to 600 pounds of tourist all over midtown, charging $40 for a twenty-minute ride. Still, he admits, “Some people don’t like the rickshaws. They find what we do degrading.”
Iftekaruddin’s rickshaw is one of five now deployed around Times Square and Central Park by Shanghai Rickshaw. They should not be confused with the pedicab, of which there are around 250 in the city, according to Frank Luo, Shanghai’s co-owner. Pedicabs and rickshaws are virtually unregulated, so it’s hard to know for sure.
Luo got the idea after seeing rickshaws (from the Japanese word jinrikisha, which means “human-powered vehicle”) in Tokyo. Those cost about $17,000 each, so he had his built in China, for $5,500. His partner, Arty Nichols, who already owns a fleet of horsedrawn carriages and pedicabs, thinks it’s the next big thing: “People don’t come to New York to take a rickshaw ride … yet.”
Nichols estimates the pullers—typically immigrants, actors, and athletes—make about $150 for a five-to-six-hour shift, with about two hours of actual pull time. Though Luo admits some get pretty winded, the majority find it’s easier than it looks because the rickshaws are so well balanced. But the appearance of difficulty works in the drivers’ favor. “I think people tip them to death,” says Nichols, “because they really feel these guys are busting their ass.”