Colin McCarty said he was surprised when he didn’t get into the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management last spring, despite a 33 on the ACT and a litany of extracurricular activities.
But at 19 years old, McCarty is taking his own course in being a business owner — he’s cornered the market in the now-thriving pedicab business in Minneapolis.
McCarty started Twin Town Pedicabs last year while attending St. Cloud State, using some of his own money along with funds from investors. McCarty now owns a majority of the pedicabs currently licensed in Minneapolis.
“Apparently I’m not cut out for the [Carlson] entrepreneurship program,” he said.
Pedicabs — three-wheeled bikes with a seat for two to three passengers — are popular in metropolitan areas across the country and the world. But Minneapolis has lagged behind the trend.
McCarty, a St. Paul native, witnessed pedicabs’ popularity first-hand as a child when he traveled across the world with his family.
“I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t they work here?’” he said.
Severe restrictions — bans on bustling streets like Nicollet Mall and a curfew of 10 p.m. — made it nearly impossible to operate a pedicab business in Minneapolis, McCarty said.
But in 2008, Ward 9 City Councilman Gary Schiff pushed for ordinance amendments that gave pedicabs more freedom to operate.
Since then, they have proliferated in the city. The number of licensed pedicabs has jumped from two to 32 since 2009, according to city license inspector Grant Wilson.
City staff is currently working on making life even easier for pedicab operators.
Currently, pedicab companies are billed for their drivers’ traffic violations. Those penalties can range from $200 to $2,000, McCarty said.
To solve this problem, Wilson said the city is working on ordinance amendments that would require individual drivers to be licensed like taxi drivers. Bans on driving during rush hour could also be eliminated.
But it doesn’t seem that Twin Town is in danger of going out of business anytime soon. McCarty added seven cabs to his fleet this year and has about 80 contracted drivers at his disposal.
He’s consulting the St. Paul City Council to craft a pedicab ordinance there, where pedicabs are legal but there’s no regulation.
“I guess I’m doing as well as any 19-year-old college kid could hope to do,” McCarty said.
Devin Buttweiler won’t tell you how much to pay for a ride in one of his Twin Town pedicabs.
He leaves it up to his customers.
“If you think I only did $2 worth of work, pay me $2,” Buttweiler says to his passengers. “But I always tell people, ‘After I go a few blocks, you’ll realize how much work I’m doing to get you there.’”
Laidback drivers like Buttweiler are part of the pedicab’s appeal, McCarty said. That, he added, and the fact that they’re new to the city’s streets.
“It’s a novelty,” McCarty said. “People see them on the street and want to give them a try.”
A typical rider is coming from a sporting event or a bar and wants to travel short distances, Buttweiler said. He said he generally works downtown because he knows the students in Dinkytown can’t afford to give him big tips.
Drivers have to go through training before they can operate pedicabs, McCarty said. They pay between $15 and $60 to use the cabs and pocket whatever fares they make, McCarty said.
McCarty said pedicab drivers, who range from college students to athletic retirees, typically make $1,000 per week.
McCarty declined to say how much he’s currently making.
From spare parts
Not all pedicab operators in Minneapolis are looking to turn it into a lucrative business.
Shawn Eddins, a bike mechanic at Varsity Bike and Transit in Dinkytown, started driving custom-made pedicabs with his friends last year.
But the city shut them down after the drivers started taking tips for their rides without a license.
The group, named “Shottyz Pedicab and Bike Repair,” has been taking its cabs through Uptown since getting licensed earlier this year.
But unlike Twin Town, which got its cabs from a distributor, Shottyz builds their own pedicabs from spare parts and old bikes. This gives them more character and adds to the attraction of their cabs, Eddins said.
“Our whole idea is that pedicabs work off novelty,” Eddins said. “So we just try to make our bikes look cool.”
Eddins said he hopes to move out of the garage at the Black Forest Inn in south Minneapolis and into a bigger shop sometime in the future and potentially open his own bike repair shop.
Although the business is in its early stages, Eddins said he and his co-workers have several ideas to expand their services.
They’re currently developing a pedicab that’s outfitted for mobile bike repairs, and they may one day sponsor community events like dance shows.
While Eddins thinks of his shop as a more informal business than McCarty thinks of Twin Town, Eddins still hopes to make enough money to keep it running.
“That’s kind of the dream,” Eddins said. “We want to be able to have it be self-sustaining and not have to put our own money into it and expand into doing other things.”