The Other Kind of Cab - Bike Week


By Cleo Bergman

Photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon.

For those of us who have lived in or visited New York City in recent years, the presence of Pedicabs is quintessential to the street life experience. Around Columbus Circle you always find rows of Pedicabs on the sidewalks with two or three men standing by each row trying to entice people to take a ride. Once they win over customers, they lead them to an available driver and have them take part in the only human-powered ride in the city.

At first glance, driving a three-wheel vehicle through the traffic of the city seems like a frightening prospect, especially when sharing the same roads as cars, trucks, and horses. Although the mechanics of a Pedicab are similar to a regular bike, the tourist toters are not allowed in the safety zones of bike lanes, says Zlatan, a professional Pedicab driver of 13 years, “We are considered vehicles…And [you get] a big ticket if [you are caught] in the bike lane… The bike lane isn’t wide enough [for Pedicabs]…We should really have our own lanes…but that will take time.” While driving Pedicabs may not be ideal for all seasons, the drivers are impressively persistent in keeping the business going all year long—rain, wind, or shine.

Of course, not all Pedicab drivers are expected to ride all year round. Being a Pedicab driver is a very independent and flexible career, ideal for young drivers such as Tural, an international student at Kingsborough Community College from Azerbaijan. “It’s a temporary job for the summer time… it’s the best job! Because…when you want [to], you can leave the job, when you want, you can go home, when you want, you can take a break…that’s why it’s cool.”

With the pros, there are some cons to being a Pedicab driver as well. “The job is real hard because you’re carrying people…and during [that] you have to explain the [history of] Central Park,” says Tural. The average Pedicab usually weighs 150 pounds (not including the weight of the customers), making the drivers’ flexibility in choosing their own break times understandable. “And you can’t stop! If you stop,” says Tural, “the cops write you a ticket…but otherwise, it’s a good job.”

Historically, Pedicab drivers have butted heads with authoritative figures on various issues once business began to boom. When Pedicabs were introduced to the city in 1994, there was only a total of around a dozen pedicabs. By 2007 though, the Pedicab population grew to 500, a number that concerned the local government. Despite the fact that Pedicabs offer an incredibly refreshing mode of transportation and are completely eco-friendly vehicles, they were seen as a safety hazard by the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Over the years, Pedicab drivers fought to keep their jobs through protests and lawsuits against the city. They are now still standing strong at 500.

More than the vehicles themselves, the most interesting thing about Pedicabs is the process of drivers getting involved with their customers. Unlike most taxicab rides where the drivers are talking on their phones or silently riding their customers to their locations, Pedicab drivers communicate with the customers and get them comfortable as they tour the city or Central Park.

In just two months, Tural is able to locate historical landmarks and buildings surrounding Central Park and point them out to his riders. Zlatan has a personal book full of pictures of celebrities he met over the years, as well as pictures of appearances he made on television with his Pedicab. Pedicab drivers not only devote their bodies to the drive, but they put their personalities into the experience as well, which makes for a much more friendly and memorable experience, melting away the usual hardness of the city.