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Archive for Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rickshaw shuttles riders around Manhattan

October 3, 2009

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Donald Ince drives a rickshaw — an open-air cab pulled around by a bicycle — in Manhattan with a pair of passengers outside a bar. Ince and his crew offer rides to anywhere that’s flat around the Manhattan area.

Donald Ince drives a rickshaw — an open-air cab pulled around by a bicycle — in Manhattan with a pair of passengers outside a bar. Ince and his crew offer rides to anywhere that’s flat around the Manhattan area.

— With two arms covered in tattoos, long hair pulled back in a pony tail and a rocker’s goatee, Donald Ince looks every bit the heavy metal bassist. It’s Saturday night, and he wants to take you home tonight.

Don’t worry, it’s a good thing.

Ince and his crew have spent the last three years furiously pedaling Manhattan into the mid 19th century courtesy of the rickshaw — a compact open air cab pulled around by a bicycle. The group travels throughout Aggieville and into the surrounding neighborhoods offering leg-powered rides to any and all. There aren’t any set fees. The enterprise is entirely tip-driven.

“If it’s level I’ll get there ...”

For a huge tip I’ll go to the Holiday Inn, but I’ll take the Linear Trail up there,” Ince said.

What began as a ride for the bourgeois in mid-1800s Japan has seen a recent popularity boom in the U.S. as a trendy alternative to driving in large, traffic-congested cities and a good way to get home after festivities. Ince purchased his cab from a friend and a veteran of the Phoenix rickshaw crowd, which Ince said is highly competitive. Since then, Ince has set out doing this own modifications — brakes, lights and swag to the trailers.

All of the riders provide their own bikes, another item where Ince, sitting on top of a Specialized Rockhopper, said quality is important. Even with good bikes, good cabs and level surfaces, hauling people around all night is tiring work.

“We’ve had a lot of people that kind of ride a night and give up,” he said.

But being a purveyor of open air transportation in a temperate climate also cuts in to Ince and Co.’s business. Even if the cabbies are capable of holding up in cold weather, the exposed riders often catch the brunt of the wind without the exercise to stay warm.

“People get on it and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is colder than walking, this sucks, I want off,”’ he said. “When it turns into that I just don’t bother coming out.”

Even though students and rides are more scarce during the summer months, the relaxed atmosphere usually means the tippers are a bit more generous.

Barring bad weather, Ince said branding remains another challenge for the Manhattan rickshaw group. Somehow, he said, the group has become associated with SafeRide, the free program for K-State students who need a ride home.

“If you hear SafeRide, make sure you correct them. SafeRide means you’re free,” he said. Pedaling for tips also brings the danger of deadbeats.

“We’ve gotten stiffed before, we just try to remember. We remember faces, this ain’t a big town.” he said.

But for Ince, what started as a way to pick up some spare scratch has grown into a full mobile enterprise. For big events the group travels across the state and teams up with other rickshaw crews.

“I started with one,” he said. “I ended up buying six by the time I was done.”

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