It started as an idea that helped get a Northeastern student through a business class. Since then, it’s become a staple of the Boston warm-weather and sports attending experiences.
You’ve seen them. Whether you accidentally fell into one after a multi-beer affair along the Fenway Park grandstand, or came into the city for the night and opted against a conventional taxi for a more unique livery service, the pedicabber is fast becoming one of the more ubiquitous elements of the city’s streetscapes; a business that’s currently working tirelessly with summer in full-swing and the Red Sox in the middle of their season.
The original company itself - Boston Pedicab - was established in 2005, as then Northeastern senior Ben Morris hatched the idea as part of a class where he was assigned to come up with a comprehensive business plan. While the concept of pedicabbing wasn’t entirely original it was set to be the first of its kind in Boston, a city that’s perfectly suited for this sort of transportation due to its crooked streets and densely populated neighborhoods within the proper area.
While Morris owns and operates Pedicab Outdoor from an office in San Francisco, the business has grown into many additional markets, as the umbrella company's primary focus is to secure advertising deals that get plastered on the tricycle's ride. Dana Jay Bein, Boston's Location Manager, for the most part holds down the operations here out of a garage tucked away in the South End. While Bein logs a sizable amount of hours during peak season, it’s by no means his full-time job.
"Comedy, that’s me. That’s my passion, and it’s what I do" (Bein is quite prevalent on the Boston comedy and improv scene) he says. "So [with pedicabbing] not only am I working my chops by talking to people, I am having fun, I am getting exercise and my serotonin is building while on the clock."
In fact, none of these brave men and women who dare to wear eye-stinging neon green shirts and brave congested Hub roads to bring tourists and fans alike to and from popular landmarks do this full-time. It’s a collection of an eclectic group of both monkey-suit wearing professionals seeking a release and people of the arts seeking a bit of extra subsidy.
"The culture that comes with riding a tricycle is second to none. You’re forced to bond with people who you otherwise never would," said Bein . "This group of people wouldn’t meet in any other environment. We have college grads, comedians, people who think they’re comedians, musicians, and many others who just have regular day jobs."
Straight Cash, Homey
In short, pedicabbers work for straight cash - like Randy Moss. It’s a tips-only gig that rewards hustle, a sharp knowledge of the city and, most importantly, the gift of gab.
Transportainment as it’s dubbed; drivers technically rent a pedicab for a fee that is determined by management based on the time of day and activity in the city. When they show up to drive, the going rate has been established, immediately creating a varying level of urgency, setting a benchmark drivers must work for in order to justify lugging around jovial human bodies in muggy weather conditions.
Naturally, Red Sox games command the highest rent lease rates but, as you would suspect, yield the highest payouts if you have your wits about you.
Boston Police only allow a total of 35 three-wheeled bikes pulling along cushy seating to populate the city streets. But around Fenway on a game day, the swells of bright green on any of the four corners of Van Ness Street and Landsdowne Street, and Yawkey Way and Brookline Avenue would suggest a much higher number than that.
"They are our biggest moneymaker…the heart of our business," said Bein of the Sox. "And it’s not simply because they are 'tha sawhks.' Instead it’s more of a zoning arrangement in the neighborhood that lends itself to thumbing a ride from a pedicabber.
"Fenway [Park] is in a unique spot for us. All of the parking garages are about a half mile away, so it’s a decent walk if you’re in a crunch for time. At the Garden, the garages are right across the street, so that area isn’t as lucrative for us."
So you wanna drive a pedicab?
Since Bein has jumped in as the location manager, he’s leveraged the increased interest in driving a pedicab to more carefully vet applicants, setting up an open house to discuss everything from the rules of the road to how to not crash into a car.
What once was somewhat of a come-one-come-all culture now is a job that isn’t given to just anyone, as Bein prides himself on ensuring all Boston Pedicab employees have the right make up for the gig.
A passion for the history and culture of Boston and of course phycial ability is crucial (with the latter somewhat eliminating this guy) but having a dynamic personality that enables the rider to feel comfortable during the entire ride is what is most important. Simply putting your head down and peddling from pick-up to destination doesn’t fly. You must be able to talk shop on the Sox bullpen, where to grab a bite while avoiding the crowds, and maybe even a little nugget on the recently arrested Whitey Bulger. You’re a moving advertisement, so you best represent the company, and the city, appropriately.
In addition to being a staple in the Fenway Park experience, Boston Pedicab has ties to many other sports teams and players. They routinely shuffle Sox friends and family around the city so much so that it's almost become the preferred method of transportation for some of the player's wives on game day. Additionally, Shaq hopped into a pedicab for pure PR attention, while the Tampa Bay Lightning used the tricycles for pure convenience, getting rides between their hotel and the TD Garden during the Eastern Conference Finals in May.
As the popularity of transportainment increases, both here and elsewhere, Bein is putting in ample time and energy into polishing the perception of their brand, with the goal of having pedestrians see Boston Pedicab as something that's much more novel than a taxi, and much less embarrassing than a Duck Tour.
But in the meantime, as Bein and his phalanx of drivers get offered weirder and odder offers for rides, he says he still prefers cash over other types of unmentionable tangible goods.