NYC pedicab companies
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29, 2008; P06
Among the experiences that make one go “Eek!, ” tooling around Manhattan in a rickshaw ranks high, falling somewhere between a cab ride during rush hour and walking through Times Square after the theaters let out. Some of the bike-drawn buggies come equipped with seat belts; others don’t. You decide your threshold of thrill.
“There’s a real rush going through traffic, ” said Jacob Press, a tour guide with the Manhattan Rickshaw Co., the longest continuously operating pedicab outfit in New York City. “We can always find a way through.”
I have explored the City That Never Stops by foot, bus and bike. But on a recent trip, I wanted to sightsee in a vehicle that was intimate with the urban landscape but didn’t require any energy expenditure. So I called Manhattan Rickshaw a few days before my visit and booked Press and his quads.
Rickshaws are pervasive in Asia, where the economical bicycles with big back seats jostle for space among mopeds, cars, beasts of burden and swarms of pedestrians. In the United States, they’re more of a novelty than a necessity but are a rousing ride nonetheless. Though passengers are not as vulnerable as the biker, they’re still thrust into the chaotic street scene.
“It’s a combination of entertainment and transportation, ” said Manhattan Rickshaw owner Peter Meitzler, who was instrumental in bringing pedicabs to New York. “It’s fun and environmental and fills a niche.”
In 1994, he and a group of entrepreneurs brought a dozen pedicabs to Manhattan, a nervy experiment in a city so dependent on taxis. To drum up interest, the rides were free. Today, a number of companies send nearly 500 pedicabs onto the streets. The taxi alternatives, which can be hailed on nearly every busy corner, charge $15 to $40 for a 10- to 30-minute ride.
In Central Park, where I met my driver, pedicabs congregate alongside horse-drawn carriages, vying for passengers with a romantic streak. Some operators also employ licensed guides capable of pedaling, pointing and narrating without crashing.
“We cover a lot of ground, ” Press told me as I climbed into the 150-pound contraption, stashing my bags in a small compartment. “In the pedicab, you can see the landscape change and are close enough to see New Yorkers in their daily life.” (Press and I vaguely discussed price and route beforehand. My only request for the 90-minute tour was to cruise through Times Square during rush hour; he balked, then conceded.)
Currently a full-time law school student, the 29-year-old New Yorker also has a master’s degree in urban planning and was keen to share his advanced-degree education. “You see layers of the city, ” he said while pedaling away, his steady voice cutting through the street noise. “It’s looking forward and backward.”
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