Pros and Cons of Pedi-cabbing: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Driving a Pedicab
What is a Pedicab Driver? What is "Pedi-cabbing?"
Pedicab driving, pedi-cabbing, and rickshawing are all terms for the same unique job: driving a bike taxi. Like a traditional taxi, pedi-cabbers charge riders a fare to take them from point A to point B, thought that's about as much as pedi-cabbing has in common with driving an automotive cab. In recent years, pedi-cabbing has taken off in many major cities. From Austin to Portland to San Francisco to New York City and beyond, residents in urban areas would probably recognize a bike taxi if they saw one. But what exactly is pedi-cabbing, what does a pedi-cabber do, and what are the pros and cons of the job? As a pedi-cab driver myself, I'll share some of my experiences with rickshawing, and take you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of driving a bike taxi. If you are thinking of becoming a pedi-cabber, curious about the alternative transportation craze sweeping the nation, or just want to learn more about this interesting occupation, read on!
Pros and Cons of Pedi-cabbing
Here is a quick list of the pros and cons of pedi-cabbing. I will spend time diving in to each point below.
- Terrible money (sometimes)
- Very physically demanding
- Meet TERRIBLE people
- You WILL piss people off.
- Good money (sometimes)
- Lots of exercise and get to work outside
- Meet interesting people
- Doesn't get boring (most of the time)
- Get to know your city/area better
Read on for explanations and insights related to each point, based on my personal experience as a pedi-cabber.
Conan O'Brien Spends a Day Pedicabbing in NYC
Pro of Pedi-cabbing: Good Money! (Sometimes)
While the money you make from pedi-cabbing can be very unpredictable (more about this in "cons") it is possible to pull a good chunk of change out of a night of rickshaw driving, if you are good at it and the stars align in your favor. Last weekend, I walked home with close to 400 dollars in my pocket after about 10 hours of work. Keep in mind: this is NOT easy money. I had to bust my back (or more accurately, my legs) to make those four bills, but none the less, the money is sometimes very good if you are willing to put the work in.
Walking home with a big bankroll like I did last week depends on a lot of things. First, you have to be decent at what you do. You have to be in good enough shape to move a lot of costumers on any given night, and get to places where customers will be (more about this in "cons"). Additionally, you have to be good at talking to people, approaching people and asking them if they want a ride (similar to "cold calling" or any basic sales) and in general be able to pedal your heart out while simultaneously chatting up customers, obeying traffic laws and keeping your customers and you safe, and maintaining a fast working pace for long periods of time. The really frustrating thing about pedi-cabbing though is that even if you are great, the money just isn't there sometimes. I was able to walk away with a nice wad of cash last Saturday night because there were several big events going on downtown where I ride that all lined up in my favor, meaning there were a lot of people on the streets willing to spend big. When the stars to line up like this, pedi-cabbing can be very good money.
Pedi-cabbing Theme Song #1
Pro of Pedi-cabbing: Good Exercise! Work Outside!
If you have noticed, I have used the term "drive" instead of "ride" when referring to pedi-cabbing, because the experience of rickshawing is very different from riding the bike you grew up on. The high weight, three wheels, and general lack of maneuverability makes pedi-cabs harder and less fun to cruise around on than bicycles (most importantly pedi-cabs do not "bank in to turns" so you can't steer through leaning: the cab will go wherever the steering wheel points only). Never the less, you are moving a great amount of weight with your own two legs, and pedaling like crazy, which all adds up to some great cardio and leg muscle building exercise. Working out while you work: what could be more fun than that? Additionally, you get to be outside, which is a huge perk in my opinion. Weather isn't really a factor: pedi-cabbing will only make you money when it is moderately warm and not raining anyway, as no customers are going to want a soggy chilly ride, so you will only be enjoying the best parts of the out doors.
Pro of Pedi-cabbing: Meet Interesting People
You have to be somewhat of a "people person" to enjoy pedi-cabbing and be good at it, but if you DO like talking to and meeting interesting people, there is plenty of opportunity to do so here. Part of your job is making small talk with customers in the hopes they will tip you more, but by doing so you will learn all sorts of interesting things about interesting people. I have had local celebrities, friends of friends that I have never met but have been at the same parties with and never bumped in to, former roomate's girlfriends cousins, and all other manner of odd and interesting people jump on the back of my cab, and getting them talking and learning about their lives and what makes them interesting can be a real joy.
Pedi-cabbing Theme Song #2
Pro of Pedi-cabbing: Doesn't Get Boring!
I have had a hundred jobs that weren't terrible, but which I couldn't stick to because they just got flat out boring. Pedi-cabbing is not one of those jobs. Since you usually have free reign to drive around wherever you like, get to talk to interesting people, are being physically active, and all of the other things that come with pedi-cabbing, you probably won't be getting bored or feeling like the work is monotonous. There ARE times when you will have a good amount of time without a ride, which can be a drag, or when you are waiting for an event to let out and are sitting around aimlessly. But despite the occasional boring stretches, on a whole pedi-cabbing is an exciting job.
Pro of Pedi-cabbing: Get to Know Your City!
One of my favorite things about pedi-cabbing is a huge perk that I didn't necessarily expect, but which I appreciate immensely: driving a rickshaw has given me the chance to get to know my city a lot better. On an obvious level, you have to know where things are and how to get there, as people will give you addresses or slang terms for hot spots without giving you directions and expect you to get there. On a deeper level though, meeting so many different people, seeing my city at all hours and from a unique angle, and spending so much time in my city's core has made me feel very connected with the place I live. Every time a friend asks me directions and I can spit out turn by turn answers without asking Siri, I have cabbing to thank. Every time someone asks me what I love about my city and my eyes glaze over as I tell stories of nighttime romps and beautiful historic spots, the same is true.
Con of Pedi-cabbing: Terrible Money (Sometimes)
Wait a minute...didn't I put "good money" as a pedi-cabbing pro?? The truth is, sometimes the money rocks and sometimes it sucks. A couple facts of pedi-cabbing make this a truism. First, I pedi-cabbers don't own the rickshaws we drive: instead we are independent contractors who lease them by the night or day from a company. When there is a lot of money down town, this lease is a pretty small percentage of profits, or you walk away with so much that it doesn't matter. But if you are having a very slow night and the lease is high, it can really hit your wallet. I have had friends end up in the hole, even though they were doing everything right, based on lease rates.
Pedi-cabbing Theme Song #3
Second, you can't post rates as a pedi-cabber. While this is different in every city, typically pedi-cabbing is by donation basis only. This sounds crazy, but it is usually easy to work around: when someone asks you how much the ride costs you use vague language like "typically, I would get $20 dollars for two people for that ride," and they will usually pay up. But some smart customers know the law and will abuse it and pay you close to nothing. Finally, there are many days when the stars just don't align. If there aren't many events going on downtown, if it has been raining recently, if there is a major televised event that is keeping everyone home, if there was a big local event last month that everyone spent their money on: there are a lot of factors which can contribute to slow nights, and when things go wrong pedi-cabbing can be small to terrible money.
Con of Pedi-cabbing: Physically Demanding
With great exercise comes great wear and tear on the body. If there is a big event going on and the money is flowing, you may be riding for 12+ hours at a time, and this is obviously very challenging physically. Even if you are in great biking shape and your legs almost never give out (mine don't), spending so much time outside in the elements while exerting yourself means your skin may peel like crazy (mine does) or you may get saddle sores from sitting on a bike seat for so long. Additionally, you will be burning a lot of calories, which sounds like fun at first but means you will have to pay a lot of attention to your nutrition and make sure you are refueling frequently and intellegently in order to avoid serious injury.
Pedi-cabbing Theme Song #4
Con of Pedi-cabbing: Meet TERRIBLE People
I'm not going to dwell on this one, as I like to keep my faith in humanity at as a high of a level as I can muster. But it should be noted that you will be around a lot of drunk people as a rickshaw driver, as the majority of your work is down town at night. Drunk people can be terrible people: from the angry dudes who yell at girls to the cheap bastards who flag you down with no intention of paying you, you will meet some terrible people.
Con of Pedi-cabbing: You WILL Piss People Off
There is a lot about pedi-cabbing that can get under people's skin. For one, you are approaching people constantly and asking them if they want a ride, and not everyone responds very well to getting cold called. I have had people tell me to f*** off multiple times when I politely offered them a lift. Additionally, you are a big boat looking tricycle that will take up a lane of traffic, and a lot of drivers will hold this against you. You will be honked at and cursed at by drivers, even if you are within the bounds of the law and using the road correctly. You will grow thick skin to this kind of thing, but in general it is never fun to piss people off.
Pedi-cabbers Piss Some People Off. This Is A Fact Of Life.
Con of Pedi-cabbing: Managers/Owners
Disclaimer: this is not something I personally have to deal with, but some of my friends who ride in different cities or for different companies complain constantly about the owners/managers of the companies they lease from. Since you are paying a lease usually for a whole night independent of how much money you make, some pedi-cab companies will try to lure you in to lease a cab for a night with promises of big events and big money, but then charge you an incredibly unreasonable lease. In general, pedi-cabbers are independent contractors, which can mean very precarious relationships with management. Often rickshaw drivers are at the mercy of the cab owners, and shouts of "it's not fair!" ring loud and often in the pedi-cabbing community.
Pedi-cabbing: A Unique and Exciting Job, but Not For Everyone
Overall, I have enjoyed my time as a pedi-cabber, and there is a lot about the work that appeals to me. The good? There is something exciting and entrepreneurial about the nature of the work: since you lease a cab, you are responsible for working hard to make your bank, and that motivates me. Plus you get to be outside, get great exercise, meet interesting people, and explore the streets of your city. The money can be very good if you are good at the job and you are cabbing on a good day. Pedi-cabbing is without a doubt an exciting and unique way to make money.
Pedi-cabbing Theme Song #5
But it isn't for everyone. The bad? So, so, so, so, soooooo physically demanding. If you do not handle extreme physical exertion over long periods of time very well, this is NOT the job for you. Additionally, many people are turned off by the independent contractor aspect of the work, as there are no real labor protections (think no bathroom breaks) and you may have to negotiate your lease with a terrible boss. Finally, the money isn't always great: if you aren't good at small talk with strangers, can't pedal like crazy for hours on end, and aren't willing to learn an ungodly amount about street names and how to get places, you aren't going to make a lot of money pedi-cabbing.
And there are admittedly things that are flat out unpleasant about the work. The ugly? Saddle sores, for starters. I am an experienced cyclist, and I wear protective shorts when I ride, but spending 12 hours on a bike seat is going to cause some wear and tear on your groin, and I often end up with an uncomfortable chafe rash after a few days of long riding. And let's not forget about the drunk people: whether it's a pack of frat bros yelling racial slurs at people as you bike by (this has happened to me...) or a group of girls who wave you down and ask to be pedaled 20 blocks away but then decide that they flirted with you a bit so don't have to pay you (this has happened to me too...) you can see the best as well as the worst of people when you drive a pedi-cab.
However, despite some of the negatives, I have enjoyed my experience and will continue to pedi-cab in my city or whatever city I end up in next, and I do recommend it to anyone who has read this guide thoroughly and still wants to give it a try.
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Questions about pedi-cabbing? Ask in the comments and I'll answer based upon my experiences!
Thanks for reading!