Mission Local reporter Rigoberto Hernandez has been a pedicab operator for Golden Gate Pedicab for the past three years.
Jordan Polythress came to San Francisco from North Carolina a few months ago for his dream job: ferrying tourists around on a bike taxi. It may not sound sexy, but he likes it more than his previous jobs as a Christmas tree harvester, a white water rafter and combat medic in the Army Reserve.
Mission resident Polythress is one of hundreds of pedicabbers in San Francisco that work as contractors for one of three companies — San Francisco Pedicabs, Cabrio Taxi and Golden Gate Pedicab.
“When you break it down, all we are doing [is] moving people around in our tricycles,” he said. “But we like it.”
At $10 per passenger per mile, pedicabbing can be a lucrative job during the high tourism season, which unofficially kicks off on Memorial Day. After paying rent on the cab for the day — which can vary from $25 to as high as $200 on high-demand days — pedicabbers are free to keep the rest for profit.
As temperatures rise, tourists get tired of walking the mile stretch from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf. Many of them find relief in pedicabs roaming Embarcadero Street. Women in high-heeled shoes and parents with young kids make up a significant portion of a San Francisco pedicabber’s clientele.
“The later on it gets in the evening, the more tired their legs get,” Polythress said. He averages about $200 in cash a day during the tourist season. Pedicab companies occasionally run advertisement campaigns by offering complementary rides and distributing company products, like the granola bars Polythress hands out in the video seen here.
Only a handful of rickshaws from the San Francisco Pedicabs company prowled downtown for decades, but that changed when two new companies opened in 2010, putting 40 additional bikes on the road. Those companies plan to add more cabs and more routes, said Geoff Abraham, owner of Cabrio Taxi.
Pedicabbers are required to stay within specific city-approved routes that are mostly confined to the downtown area, but also wander up Battery Street to Chinatown and Union Square. Yet Cabrio Taxi, the newest company, known for their glittering red pedicabs, has recently obtained permits to go to other parts of the city, including the Mission and the Haight.
Competition among the three companies has been relatively peaceful, with the exception of what the Bay Citizen dubbed the “pedicab war” of 2011. The San Francisco Police Department yanked West Coast Pedicab’s permit in 2011 after competing companies complained that that West Coast’s drivers were operating without a license and violating the rules of the road. Drivers from other companies launched a website to display photographs that showed West Coast drivers allowing customers to pedal and riding in unpermitted areas.
Eric Wesselink, owner of West Coast told the Bay Citizen at the time that “there were some valid points,” but that it was mostly attacks from competitors who wanted to dominate the market.
As the visibility of pedicabs in San Francisco grows, an increasing number of riders are inquiring about how to join the fleet. All pedicabbers pay a $320 start-up fee to get a license and first-timers are required to pass a rules-of-the-road test and acquire a license through the San Francisco Police Department.
The vast majority of the approximately 100 pedicabbers are men, with the exception of a handful of women who recently joined.
“I definitely, as a women, get more rides that guys wouldn’t necessarily get,” said Mimosa Andre, who started cabbing for Cabrio Taxi last year after leaving her job as an elementary school teacher. “Whether it’s guys who think I am cute, or a family who feels safer with a girl, but then sometimes guys pass me up because they don’t think I am strong enough.”
John Wagner, 27, left his job as a consultant at the German Embassy to start pedicabbing earlier this year.
“I got started on a whim,” he said. “I was doing my shopping at Trader Joe’s and there was a guy enjoying his lunch on the back of a cab. He seemed to be a pretty happy dude.”
Watch the Mission Local video above to learn more about local pedicabbers.