Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Rickshaw Drivers Tackle City's Hills
Rickshaw drivers tackle city's hills
Burlington Free Press
Published: Saturday, August 18, 2007
By Lauren Ober
Hills, shmills. What's a couple of steep streets to a pair of young entrepreneurs with boundless energy and wide-eyed optimism?
Nick Lockwood and Jon Summerville, proprietors of the new SummerWood Rickshaw service, are hoping the west-east inclines heading from Lake Champlain into downtown Burlington don't pose too much of a challenge to their fledgling business. But history has shown that operating a pedicab service in Burlington is certainly an, um, uphill battle.
The 22-year-old Burlington residents won't be deterred by the topography, though they will admit that some city hills have them soaked with sweat, lungs and legs on fire by the time they crest the top.
The pair said the idea for the pedicabs -- a bicycle-like vehicle that carries one or two passengers -- was the product of too much free time last spring. They thought it would be fun to try and build their own pedicab from plans culled from the Internet. It took most of April to weld the contraption together. High school metal shop classes finally came in handy, said Lockwood, who is working this summer in the marketing department of Ben & Jerry's.
With the homemade pedicab ready to roll, Summerville, a cook at Tilley's Cafe, began taking friends for rides. Soon, a business plan was born. The two would take passengers around the waterfront on scenic tours, as well as provide an alternative transportation service around town. Summerville bought another bicycle rickshaw on eBay to begin their fleet.
The Internet pedicab wasn't exactly what they expected.
"It came in a million pieces and almost no directions. There was just a picture of what it should look like," Summerville said.
The first day out on the eBay pedicab, the pedal fell off. The two say they'll never buy a bicycle rickshaw kit off the Internet again.
"The craftsmanship isn't there," Lockwood said, chuckling.
With the mechanical snags out of the way, the pair hit the streets a couple of weeks ago after a test run in the Harpoon Point-to-Point charity bike ride. They made it 12 miles, taking turns pedaling, before they were curbed by exhaustion.
Recently, Summerville gave two customers a ride up Maple Street from the waterfront and made it as far as Pine Street "before I was seeing stars," he said. But they won't be discouraged.
"I feel like if we don't give up and keep working on a way, it'll work," Summerville said.
The two are toying with a geared pedicab that would make hauling human cargo up Burlington's hills a little easier. Plans for an electric pedicab have also been tossed around.
They'll have to come up with some kind of creative solution to the city's tricky topography if they want to make their endeavor a success. The last pedicab service in Burlington ran for six weeks in 1997 before the hills killed it.
Peter Duval, who ran Vermont Pedicabs as an experiment in alternative transportation, says not only is the city's layout a challenge, but so is its relatively small population.
"Burlington is a tough place because it doesn't have the population base and it's got a heck of a hill," Duval said.
Local bicycling advocate Chapin Spencer, executive director of Local Motion, said he welcomes the pedicab business and said in a number of American cities, pedicabs are a vibrant part of the public transportation system.
"It's an easy, care-free way to get around," Spencer said.
Despite SummerWood Rickshaw's quasi-novelty status, the pair say they're getting customers and enjoying the challenge.
"We've never had someone get on and not have fun," Summerville said.
Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or email@example.com
COST: Tour of the bike path, $20/hr for one person, $35 for two people. Prices are negotiable for shorter trips.
HOURS: Weekends. Weekdays by appointment.
LOCATION: Outside of the ECHO Center on Burlington's Waterfront.
CONTACT: Jon Summerville, 310-4112, firstname.lastname@example.org