Bike taxis could come to Ann Arbor

BY LARA ZADE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 17, 2009

Imagine a city that provides cabs with three wheels, no doors and two pedals for its busy commuters. Ann Arbor may be that city in the near future.

Barbara Annis, a resident of Ann Arbor’s old west side, is looking to garner support to have a pedicab business open in Ann Arbor.

Pedicabs, also known as bike taxis or rickshaws, are pedaled vehicles that transport people from one place to another.

Annis first rode a pedicab when she was abroad in Asia.

“It must have planted a seed,” she said.

Pedicabs have become an international phenomenon and have become popular in cities like New York, Boston and San Diego.

Annis said she came up with the idea to bring pedicabs to Ann Arbor after she heard about a grant proposal from the Ann Arbor Community Foundation.

“It’s just a cool idea, said Annis. “It connects with the bigger idea of non-motorized transportation, and that’s something the city has been working on for quite a long time.”

Annis said she thought pedicabs in Ann Arbor would cater to city walkers traveling short distances or to those who have their hands tied up from children or grocery bags.

The cost per fully equipped cab, including turn signals and seat belts, is $3,500 to $4,000. Other costs include maintenance, storage and insurance, which Annis has not yet estimated.

Her plan is to bring a fleet of 10 pedicabs to Ann Arbor and adjust that number after gauging popularity.

Though pedicabs operate the same way as taxicabs and are primarily owned by private companies, Annis said she would like to see Ann Arbor employ free pedicab service. That would require the city to manage the cabs and be funded by sponsorships.

The deadline for the last Ann Arbor Community Foundation grant proposal has already passed, but Annis said she’s still looking for a sponsor.

Pete Hines, chair of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, said that his group is in full support of having pedicabs as an alternative source of transportation in Ann Arbor. He added, however, that as a nonprofit organization, it wouldn’t be able to offer a sponsorship.

Annis also spoke with Nancy Shore, the director of Ann Arbor’s getDowntown — a program that focuses on finding sustainable transportation options for the city’s commuting employees — about the practicality of bringing pedicabs to the city.

Shore liked the idea, but didn’t think it was feasible for such a form of transportation due to winter weather conditions and a small population density.

“I’m very supportive of all types of alternative transportation, but I’m just weary of some issues regarding our density here,” Shore said. “Right now I don’t think that pedicabs will work in Ann Arbor.”

However, other Michigan cities — including Grand Rapids and Detroit — have joined the trend.

Darin Galinis, owner and operator of Elite Pedicabs, became the first pedicab operator in Michigan when he opened his business with co-owner Randy McCullough in Lansing in 2007.

Shortly after opening in Lansing, Galinis moved his business to Grand Rapids so that he could be closer to his family.

Currently Galinis operates four pedicabs in Grand Rapids, but is looking to at least double that number and expand to other cities, including Ann Arbor.

“We’d love to have our business in Ann Arbor,” he said. “It could be in there in a matter of weeks.”

Although Shore had concerns about Ann Arbor’s low population density as a potential issue for supporting a pedicab service, Galinis said that the city's size is not a major problem.

“If there’s one thing I can say, as long as you have any sort of night life, size doesn’t matter, you can have pedicabs there,” he said. “It’s just how many bikes you allow.”

But even with the most expensive ride settling at $5, a lack of customers forced Galinis to cut operation in Grand Rapids from seven days a week to Wednesday through Saturday from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“At first it was our intention to go every day of the week but we found out that it was harder to get started during the day than during the night,” he said. The nightlife is more accepting of it.”

In addition, Galinis acknowledged the fact that weather during the winter months can make for uncomfortable conditions outside, but that business is just about as busy now as it is during summer months.

“The one thing that definitely stops us is the wind,” he said. “It’s just unsafe.”

Even last Friday — when temperatures were near 22 degrees — Galinis said he made as much money as he would have on an average summer night with perfect weather.

And in regards to competition with taxi cabs, Galinis said he knows it’s there, but thinks that time will mend any ill feelings after cab drivers realize that it’s a give-and-take relationship.

Although the pedicabs business takes away some shorter rides from taxicabs, Galinis said he also refers longer distance rides to cab drivers.

“I think it just needs time,” said Galinis.