Monday, June 30, 2008

Bike-Taxi Business Launches This Week

Seven Days
Published June 25, 2008
By Mike Ives
Photo by Jordan Silverman

Ever find yourself exiting a Church Street bar in the wee hours, but not ready to quit reveling? James Simpson hopes so. And he hopes that you have a few dollars left in your pocket.

A former cabbie for Benways Transportation and Yellow Cab, Simpson is now the ebullient cofounder of Pedal Power Bike Taxi, Burlington’s latest stab at fossil-fuel-free transport. This week, Simpson and his colleagues are releasing two “pedal cabs” into the city’s taxi-jammed downtown. A bike-taxi experience, he assures, will be something of a “party thing.”

In addition to pleasure-seeking passengers, Simpson says, his drivers will haul pizza, parcels and whatever else will fit. (Some Pedal Power rigs will haul up to 1000 pounds.) Says the 31-year-old Simpson, “I’m even trying to work out a delivery for kegs.”

And that’s only the first leg of what could be a long entrepreneurial ride. Pedal Power’s two-taxi fleet will soon expand to six, and Simpson’s crew is manufacturing more gear at a “secret location” — a.k.a., his buddy’s place in Winooski. Future projects may include “trikes” with electric-assist motors, “authentic Asian rickshaws” and a $6000 “bike car” with a fiberglass body. Simpson, who pedal-pushed passengers in Tucson before moving to Burlington, says he plans to sell the contraptions to clients in such neighboring towns as Plattsburgh and St. Albans.

Hoping for a lift in his pedal-powered sails, Simpson recently applied for grant money from Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office. No dice. “They said they’d given out all the money, and they were waiting for it to be paid back,” he reports.

Ed Antczak, an economic development specialist for CEDO, says people have come to his office in recent years with ideas for everything from pedal cabs to rickshaws. “None of them ever materialized,” he says.

Simpson is unfazed. In fact, he is hoping to “make a killing” at the waterfront over the Fourth of July weekend. Later this summer — once Pedal Power has acquired “a good amount of bank” — Simpson hopes to move his makeshift office out of the Pearl Street skateboard shop Ridin’ High Skate Shop.

Since Ridin’ High owner John Van Hazinga is a business partner, there’s no immediate pressure to find permanent digs. Still, Simpson says, “We’re hoping to get out of his hair.”

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