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Pedal power thrives in Germany

Ad-friendly and environmentally sensitive, human-powered taxis are flourishing across German cities.

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Like many of Germany's 5 million unemployed, Jens Indorf trudged out each morning in a futile search for a job. His year-long quest ended when he took a job as a Velotaxi driver. Now he gets up each morning with a spring in his step - a product of days spent pedaling his tricycle taxicab along the banks of the Main River, under the blossoming cherry trees, and past the tall glass towers that are the trademark of continental Europe's banking capital.

Mr. Indorf is part of a new fleet of taxi drivers that have flourished on the gridlocked streets of Germany's big cities. Pedal-powered, mouse-shaped Velotaxis, or "cult-flitzers," as they are called here, ride streets, bike paths, and pedestrian zones to transport tourists and city dwellers. They've transformed Indorf's life. And they could transform the way cities fight car pollution.

"I love to sweat," says the former car mechanic, hauling his 308-pound steel tricycle through nooks and crannies unreachable to buses and taxis. One of 60 seasonal Velotaxi drivers in Frankfurt, Indorf pays 6 euros ($7.72) a day for the vehicle, insurance coverage, and repair service. The rest he keeps. He earns between $50 and $130 a day.

Relaxing in one of the two upholstered seats in back, passenger Yvonne Spiess says she felt bad at first about having somebody physically work to transport her. Velotaxis evoked frail men running with rickshaws in developing countries. But Indorf convinced her otherwise.

"Now I'm seeing my city from a different perspective," says Ms. Spiess, a dance therapist, as her cabdriver pedals his way through the city's municipal square. "I feel closer to it."

Equipped with 21 gears, disc brakes, and an electric auxiliary engine rechargeable by batteries, the $9,000 Velotaxi is a far cry from India's rickshaws.


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