Pedaling for profit

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Koa Rosa wants to bring his pedicab business to Minneapolis, but he’s facing restrictions by the city that make the enterprise nearly impossible.

A pedicab, also known as a rickshaw, bugbug, cyclo, or trishaw, is a human-powered bike designed to carry passengers in addition to the driver. Cities such as London, Amsterdam, Rome, Beijing and Moscow have thriving pedicab scenes, as do the U.S. cities of Boston, San Diego, and Orlando among others.

Rosa has lived here for two years, but before that he ran his pedicab business for a year in San Diego. He started out working for another company, but he and a friend decided to start their own company together. They bought one pedicab and between him and his partners, they were able make enough money to get through school. It was the perfect enterprise for a student, because there wasn’t a set schedule, and most of the work was done in the summer.

“It’s only as difficult as you make it,” says Rosa of his experience in San Diego. “You can really get burned out at the end of the ride.” Luckily, Minneapolis has a lot fewer hills so practically, a driver take more trips without getting completely worn out.

Want to hear more? Or say more?
The Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee will have a public hearing on pedicab regulations in the City Council chambers (317 City Hall) on July 16. The committee meeting starts at 1:00 p.m.

According to Rosa, the clientele for pedicab rides is generally young professionals who want something fun to do. Typically the rides are only a few blocks. The pedicab driver can provide ideas for the riders about where to go. “I honestly think the people we were competing with were Nike and Adidas and a good pair of walking shoes,” says Rosa.

Rosa feels that there is a lot that’s inviting about Minneapolis to a pedicab business. Down by the lakes, segways and horse carriage rides are a frequent occurrence.

A few pedicab businesses already operate in the Twin Cities. Pedicabs are not the most lucrative endeavor a business person could invest in, but they may be one of the most fun. Steven Audette, who owns Como Pedicab, says, “It’s a hobby at best, and I’ve probably lost more money than I’ve made, but it keeps the doctor off my back.”

Finding a Twin Cities pedicab
You may have to go to St. Paul for a pedicab ride in the Twin Cities. Como Pedicab, at 1224 N. Lexington Parkway, provides history tours in Como Park and weddings and individualized excursions and State Fair transportation from distant parking. (651- 646-3648)
Cycle Seven is a Minneapolis company, but the website says they are only operating in St. Paul and suburbs this year. Cycle Seven rents seven-person cycles for private parties and events. (612-227-9773)

Rising gas prices also provide incentive for a pedicab entrepreneur. And the upcoming Republican National Convention promises an extra boost of tourists. Paul Selcke, who owns Cycle Seven, a company that rents out “conference bikes”, which are operated by seven people, writes in his blog: “Someone from the Republican National Committee contacted me last week and inquired about the use of the bike around Minneapolis and St. Paul when Republicans gather for the convention. They want to ‘do something green.'”

Minneapolis’s current rules on pedicabs restrict business activity after ten o’clock p.m. that’s a deal-breaker for Rosa. “It’s slowed me down,” says Rosa. Not only can pedicab drivers not drive after ten, they can’t pedal downtown between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Unlike Saint Paul, which doesn’t have any regulations for pedicabs, Minneapolis requires a $200 licensing fee, insurance, which costs up to $1500 per bike, and an equipment inspection by the city. Also, the laws about whether pedicabs are allowed to be in the bike lanes are unclear.

Proposal to Update Minneapolis Pedicab Laws

Rosa has found an ally in Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff. Schiff says that the last time the law was looked at in Minneapolis was in 1984. A public hearing on updating pedicab regulations is scheduled for July 16.

Minneapolis isn’t the only city in the world that is not pedicab friendly. They are banned completely in Bangkok and from the “strip” in Las Vegas. In New Delhi, the supreme court banned pedicab driving in the neighborhood of Chandri Chowk, an action which has since been challenged by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Last year, New York City proposed a bill limiting the number of pedicabs to 375, eliminating about 175. The bill, which was backed by Broadway businesses and taxicab companies, also proposed banning pedicabs from bike lanes and bridges, and from Midtown during the Christmas season. At the last minute, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the bill.

Minneapolis doesn’t face such heavy restrictions. Gary Schiff says the main priority is to change time restrictions so that pedicab drivers like Koa Rosa can run their business past ten o’clock. Possibly, the change in the law will encourage more pedicab entrepreneurs to set up shop in this city.

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.