Pedicab driving no easy ride
John Allen of Revolution Rickshaws picks up customers outside of Rockefeller Center in New York. (Photo by RJ Mickelson/amNY)
It takes more than calf-muscles to pedal the city streets for hours a day.
Pedicab drivers need charm, hustle and a grasp on city lore to succeed in the increasingly competitive industry.
And soon, the city will likely require rickshaw businesses to take out insurance, pass inspections and beef up their safety protocol. Veteran drivers said they welcome the requirements as the number pedicabs pushes past 1,000.
The industry is getting a bad rep, said Julian Isaza of Revolution Rickshaws, one of the city's first pedicab companies. We are an intimate and safe way to see the city.
Pedicabs popped up on New York streets in the last decade. Typically, drivers rent their cabs from Manhattan companies with small fleets. Isaza said they train fledging drivers in negotiating the roads and obeying traffic regulations.
I scare the s--- out of them, Isaza said. It's a reality check.Pedalers hunt for tourists near Central Park during the day, or scope out the Theater District and busy taxi lines in the evening.
If you're a tourist, you want to do drink in everything, said John Allen, 55, a rail-thin driver from Hells Kitchen. On the subway, you miss so much.
Some drivers look to the industry for quick cash. Others say they like freedom to be outside and boast that their trade is eco-friendly.
And then there are the showboats.
I want them to experience things they would otherwise miss, said Madison Reyes, 24, who sings during his tours and drives a cab lined with fake flowers.
Central Park drivers pepper their trips with local history. Tours cost about $60, but Reyes said he gets about three takers a day.
You see everything. It's comfortable. And there's no horse smells, said Benny Lilipaly, 39, a tourist from Amsterdam who road with Reyes.
Out on city streets, pedicabs ride in traffic looking for passengers. It's here that pedestrians and cab drivers can get irked.
They are dangerous, said G. Slatin, 65, a retired Manhattan resident. They don't abide by the traffic signals. I've see them driving on sidewalks to avoid traffic.
In one high-profile incident, a pedicab driver and one of his three passengers were injured last week after they sped down the Williamsburg Bridge and slammed into a cab on the street.
Police issue tickets to pedicabs for traffic violations, but the city doesnt track complaints about them because the industry is not yet officially regulated, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs. That will change if the city passes a pedicab licensing law proposed last week.
Trying to break out of the street hustle, some companies now offer cargo-messaging services. Revolution Rickshaws works with City Harvest in picking up restaurant leftovers for the needy, Isaza said. Pony Cab provides rickshaws for weddings and film shoots, including a Times Square scene filmed for Gossip Girl, said owner Tony Rojas.
Allen said he still enjoys his job after five years on the streets.
It's like working out at the gym, but more fun, he said.
Pedicabs by the numbers
1,000: Estimated number of pedicabs
$4,000: Cost to buy a new pedicab
$180: Weekly rate to rent a pedicab to peddle
$1: Average cost per block for a ride for each passenger
$60: Average price for an hour tour in Central Park
Should I become a pedicab driver?
- Able to set your own hours
- No need for the gym and lots of fresh air
- Budding tour guides can test their skills on passengers visiting the city
- Hard workers can earn $400 a day
- Increasing competition; must develop a sales shtick
- Constant rejection from weary tourists
- Rain and calf pain are your enemies
- Manhattan biking is stressful and chaotic