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Daniel Girard/Santa Barbara Car Free

Taxi! Taxi!

The Pleasures of Pedicabbing


Monday, July 23, 2012

ped•i•cab: n. A fun, nonpolluting, and friendly alternative in urban transportation.

Few bicycle designs inspire our sense of fun as much as a pedicab, or bicycle taxi, does. If you spend any time in Santa Barbara’s downtown core, you have surely seen them, with drivers in Hawaiian shirts, bells a-ringing, smiles on their faces, their cabs festively adorned with colored lights and other decorations.

Pedicabs have long been used around the world, especially in larger Asian cities, as an affordable and simple form of transportation. But in car-centered California, it’s only in the past 15 to 20 years that the bicycle-drawn carriage has been gaining traction as an easy, enjoyable way to get from point A to point B. Pedicab passengers are supporting a green business (burritos and Cliff Bars are a more sustainable fuel source than fossil fuels, right?), while enjoying the gorgeous sights and sounds of our fair cities (not to mention the rippling backside of the driver — but I digress).

Erika Lindemann

I’ve been enthusiastically enjoying pedicabs since 2007, when I spent a few seasons as a pedicab operator. It was a fun way to get into great shape while meeting people and making pretty good cash, too, especially during big events such as the 4th of July, Fiesta, and Santa Barbara Bowl concerts. It was certainly challenging to work shifts that often ended at 2 or 3 a.m., and then try to work a day job, but the experience was rewarding. And buns of steel video workouts have nothing on driving pedicabs.

Santa Barbara Pedicab is owned by two of my favorite friends, a husband-wife powerhouse, Jim and Brittany Heaton. They have long been interested in social enterprise — that is, private enterprise that makes money while also fulfilling a larger social need. In this case, that social need is a more-sustainable transportation service for locals and tourists alike. The labor of love has paid off by bringing an important business opportunity to its network of drivers and joy to their passengers who get to see Santa Barbara from a different perspective than can be gained from inside a car.

Best Bets for Pedicab Rides: There are many opportunities to enjoy a pedicab ride. The most obvious way is to hop on a pedicab to get around State Street and its surrounding neighborhoods, or to get to and from the Bowl, or to your after-party destination. Riders have posted fares of $1/block/person, but most still are willing to work for any size tip you deem worthy. (Be generous, good people!)

Bride and groom Deborah Chong and Jeremy Dimasuay, enjoying the ride.
Click to enlarge photo

Kristen Grinnell Photography

Bride and groom Deborah Chong and Jeremy Dimasuay, enjoying the ride.

Pedicabs are very popular for special events, like weddings. Wedding planners hire pedicabs to get their guests from ceremony to reception, or even to drive the bride to meet the groom as part of the ceremony. Check out the theSanta Barbara Pedicab website for more details.

Another way to try out a pedicab is to hire it for a tour around town. If you are around next weekend, July 27-29, check out the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trails Passport Weekend event. ] Santa Barbara Pedicab will be providing transportation to help you explore the 17 tasting rooms on the tour.

Back In the Day: Pedicabs in Santa Barbara reached a pinnacle in the late 1990s and early into the new millennium. I wasn’t here to experience it, but many folks remember when bike taxis filled downtown and lined up at the Santa Barbara Bowl before and after shows. This period of pedicab history has reached legendary status. Veteran riders have often recounted to me how much fun it was to be out on the town with 20-30 other riders and cabs. They observed that when more drivers were operating more cabs, more people wanted to ride in them. It does sound like a great period to be riding.

So what happened? Where have all those rickshaws and riders gone? The pedicab industry at that time was entirely unregulated, and that meant that any rider on any kind of rig could start cabbing. And that led the City of Santa Barbara, in 2002, to develop basic regulations, requiring riders to have a driver license, and proof of insurance, and to undergo a background check; and requiring the rickshaws to be in good working order.

The new regulations, especially the cost-prohibitive insurance requirement, led all companies and most riders to close up shop. Several individual riders did persevere and worked with the city to meet the regulations. They ultimately banded together and formed Santa Barbara Pedicab, and it was through that company that Jim, Brittany, and I began driving pedicabs. Jim and Brittany bought the company in 2008.

Riders: I asked Jim to tell me more about his riders [the industry term for pedicab drivers]. He said that what is remarkable is the diversity of riders. “I anticipated a lot of students and younger riders, and we do get them. But we also have a lot of folks that are retired or semi-retired, or between jobs. And then we have several Santa Barbara–based working professionals who want to have fun and exercise while making some extra cash.”

Dan Livingston has been driving pedicabs for several years and was eager to tell me about his many positive experiences. He recalled, via email, “Last Saturday was full of giving rides to the nicest people. I took a dad with his four kids, skateboards, and scooters to the Santa Barbara Inn. He had missed the shuttle and was stranded. I offered a ride and he said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Of course I was! Just listening to the kids talk on the way and the dad being so appreciative gave me a positive-vibration injection. I tell people that pedicabbing is good for my heart in two ways.”

Santa Barbara Pedicab is accepting applications to ride with their crew. They do, of course, screen applicants, so interested people should give a call or send an email to find out more about the application process. If you are looking for a great way to get in shape, get to know Santa Barbara, and make some extra cash, join the green enterprise that is pedicabbing in Santa Barbara!

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