Sitting on the seat of his festive tricycle, Josh Bross halloos a passerby with his favorite line, “Bet you a smile you’ll enjoy a pedicab ride.”
Pedicabs are a novel mode of transportation in SLC, and from 10:00 p.m. to 1 a.m. we counted about a dozen cabs taking diners and bar hoppers on short jaunts. The smile bet is a double down—both Josh and the passengers wind up smiling.
Pedicabs and their success indicate larger numbers of people who are partaking of downtown nightlife. Just six years ago downtown Salt Lake City at night was desolate and sparse. Today there are hundreds of people on Main Street after dark.
The Gateway Center was built to stimulate downtown life during the Olympics since Main Street was in decline. But now Gateway is in flux and Main Street is full of life.This turnabout is due largely to a change in Salt Lake’s zoning laws. Until five years ago zoning laws stated that only one bar could be permitted per block face in downtown. Salt Lake City’s blocks are three times as large as most city blocks. This made it impossible for Salt Lake to have a viable bar scene.
The change in the laws along with the pedicab service have made a huge difference. Whiskey Street, Gracies, Beerhive Bodega, Cheers To You, Green Pig and Keys on Main are all packed after 10 p.m., served by pedicabs.
Josh has learned that when there’s a lull in business, pedicabbers benefit from having one-liners ready to pull out of their back pocket because the job is psychologically as well as physically demanding. Pedicabbers must have what Josh calls “people stamina,” the psychological endurance required to read, interpret, respond to, and tolerate a broad range of personalities. That, and be able to pedal-push up to 700 pounds through city streets.
Some pedicabs are equipped with front wheel electric pedal-assist units, but you won’t see sissy bars mounted on any of the taxis.
Josh contracts with Louis Gasper’s Salt City Cycle Cabs, a more recently established business that operates in tandem with SLC Bike Tours. The companies are separate entities, but share the common vision of providing reputable urban transportation. Pedicabbers negotiate fare rates, work for tips, and pay a percentage of their per-shift earnings to their parent company, so they must know the city layout and be able to calculate on-the-spot and profitable compensation.
“There are times when you make no money,” Josh notes, but fortune may spin the other way as well. A playing card ace woven into a wheel’s spokes means the driver has earned a $100 tip. Josh, who also has a background in computer science, math, film and science, says he drives a pedicab in part to help develop salesmanship skills. “It’s cool to be downtown and meet all sorts of different people,” he says. What’s not cool are long icicles in his beard. Licensed riders work 365 days a year, including holidays, and in any kind of weather.
Pedicabs operate within Salt Lake City limits. In addition to providing transportation, pedicabbers act the role of urban concierge, tour guide and entertainer. “I tell jokes as I’m doing the chit-chat thing,” Josh says, all while safely maneuvering through traffic. Bread and butter times are weekends and Jazz games. “Sometimes kids are even more excited about riding in the cab than the game,” says Josh. Comicon was a “record-breaker” for the business as well as an opportunity for Josh to pedal people around dressed as Marvel Comics’ Thor.
Besides the fun aspect, bike taxis contribute to growing a healthy community. Colorful pedicabs outfitted with sound systems enliven an urban scene (Josh has an ooga horn on his taxi). Camaraderie among riders and fares fosters a sense of community, and pedicab transportation, Josh recognizes, “works well in an infrastructure which caters to people getting everything they need in their own locale.” But business could be better if more people were aware they existed.
“There are pedicab companies in this city…and nobody knows!” Josh comments. Outside of downtown, pedicabs have very little presence, though Salt City Cycle Cabs does offer a Liberty Park tour. Josh envisions people choosing pedicabs not for long trips but to save time walking downtown. He suggests parking farther away from an event, such as a Twilight Concert and taking a taxi to the front gate. “I want people to plan their night around a pedicab.”
Pedicab transportation is good for the environment and a fun way to get around, but can people get where they need to go as quickly as by car? “Faster!” Josh grins, “and with a guaranteed smile!