Ever pay your cabbie with a burrito?
Didn’t think so.
But if you took a pedicab, you probably could have.
Thanks to Business School sophomore Calvin Schemanski, pedicabs — bicycle-powered taxi cabs — have come to Ann Arbor. And their drivers will gladly take your burritos.
Schemanski and Grand Valley State University sophomore Josh Lycka opened Petoskey Pedicab, LLC this summer in their hometown of Petoskey, Mich. And in the fall, Schemanski brought the business back to school with him.
“People think it’s really cool and respect the fact that we bike around to make a living,” Schemanski said.
The carriages sit on two wheels and are pulled through the street by a man-powered bicycle.
Hundreds of cities across the country currently have pedicab services, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Last winter, Schemanski and Lycka were trying to come up with something they could do during the summer to make some money.
“We were both working in a kitchen last winter and we were talking about different things we could do during the summer and the bike thing came up,” Schemanski said. “Then we realized it could be plausible and we looked into it, thought we could do it and went for it.”
Because of newly passed legislation in New York City that limited the number of pedicabs allowed on the streets, Schemanski and Lycka said they were able to purchase two cabs at a cheap price. Schemanski said this made the opportunity too good to pass up.
They started the business last summer in their hometown of Petoskey, Mich., giving tours of the city during the afternoons and running as a regular taxi service for the local bars during the night.
In the fall, Schemanski brought the business to Ann Arbor, where the pedicabs were first used during welcome week.
“At first there were a lot of double takes,” he said. “We started talking to people about it and a lot of people didn’t know what it was. But once one person rode it, and people saw it, they joined in too.”
For rides under 10 minutes, the drivers only ask for a tip. But if the ride is longer than 10 minutes, they’ll give you a quote, typically $3 to $5 per person, per mile.
“Some people question the decision to go by tips,” Schemanski said. “But it has proven itself to work very well. I would say that I get overpaid much more frequently than underpaid.”
Music School senior Fritz McGirr, who sometimes drives the pedicabs, was even tipped with a burrito once after he transported the co-owner of Burrito Joint to work.
“It made my day,” he said.
The pedicabs run from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., Friday through Sunday, and Schemanski said it is rare for a driver to go 10 minutes without giving a ride.
“Most people walk because calling a (regular) taxi for a 10- or 15-minute walk seems silly,” he said. “But when a guy with a bike and carriage rolls by asking only for a tip to ride you to your destination, many people recognize the value and take advantage of our service.”
Engineering freshman Joe Beck, who is a regular pedicab customer, said the quality of the service is one of the reasons he continues to come back.
“Calvin told me he’d take me down the street for a dollar,” Beck said. “After that, I kept seeing him and I kept getting rides.”
Beck is just one of the many regular customers the new service has drawn, but once winter comes, they might have to resort to regular taxis to transport them around town.
“We pride ourselves on doing our best to provide an enjoyable ride,” Schemanski said. “When the temperature is so cold it is hard to offer that quality experience.”
Petoskey Pedicab, LLC will close for the winter but not permanently. Depending on the weather, the company might open occasionally.
Schemanski said the two plan to return to Petoskey next summer where they will continue to offer tours. And, because of their success in Ann Arbor, they plan to come back again next fall.
“This was our experimental year. It didn’t cost us much. We found a lot of demand for it,” Schemanski said. “We didn’t have any problems with the government or police so we’re buying another pedicab or two and continuing it next year.”
Despite the positive feedback for the new company, there are some in Ann Arbor who aren’t as excited.
Kevin Tulppo, a dispatcher for Amazing Blue Taxi, LLC, voiced his skepticism of the new business.
Tulppo said it was taking away some of his business, but he didn’t see how the company could last in the winter months.
“It’s a nice novelty, but I don’t see how people can make a living off of it,” Tulppo said. “The only time (pedicabs can) make money is the first couple of months of autumn and then the few weeks before graduation.”