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Arts & Culture
A day in the life: A pedicab driver
What better way is there to tour San Francisco than by riding in a sparkly red fiberglass carriage, powered by a friendly bicyclist tour guide?
You can pay for a ride to just about anywhere in San Francisco—hills permitting of course. But the best place to find an open pedicab is along the Embarcadero. There, the sounds of passing bike bells have become just as common as the rumbling trolleys and squawking seagulls. KALW’s Leah Rose caught a ride with Coby Wilson—a pedicab driver for Cabrio Taxi.
COBY WILSON: My name’s Coby Wilson I’m a pedicab driver. I’ve been doin’ it since the end of last summer so almost a year. Before I was a pedicabber I worked at the Fairmont hotel and I had dental, vision, and health insurance and I was making really good money. I definitely took a pay cut to be a pedicab driver in the beginning because I started working here in the winter when it’s terrible as far as the amount of money you make. But the quality of life was so much better. That’s what really sold it for me was that I’m making less money but I get to work whenever I want. I get to be outside instead of working nights in the basement of a fancy hotel serving rich people. I’m just so much happier now in every possible way.
So we post up in different places, down at Fishermans Wharf or at the Ferry Building or Pier 33 where the Alcatraz boat lets off and we just wait for people to come up and ask for a ride and people hop in. The other strategy is to just ride back and forth up and down the Embarcadero and wait ‘til someone hops in.
Pretty much everyone walking around here is a tourist so you’ve just got to convince them that you’re not a conman that this is a legit thing that you do.
So here, we have a couple of cabs coming by and we got some middle-aged ladies. They have some shopping bags and backpacks, obviously tourists. They’re having a good time, so that guy made a good call when he asked them.
There’s a lot of regulations around being a pedicabber in San Francisco. You have to get permits through three different offices in the city. It took me over three months to get everything involved. It costs a little bit over $400 but the nice thing about our company is they don’t make you pay for the rent on the bike until you’ve made back that $400. So we rent the bike for the day and then everything we make, we make. On a really slow winter day it could be as low as $30 and then on a really busy day it could be $100.
We do have a schedule here that has all the prices for all the areas in the city, and those prices are approved by the city. We are generally charging less than what is approved by the city ‘cause usually it’s like $8 for every extra person or something like that. I rarely will charge people more for more people. I’m happy to get them into the cab at whatever price. I’m always happy to get a ride rather than sit around and do nothin’.
I went to the Golden Gate Bridge the other day for $60 – which is a lot of money – but it’s miles and hills and it took me over an hour. I was exhausted afterwards but we all had a good time so it was worth it.
It does take a little while to learn where everything is. This is a part of the city that I had never been to. I live out in the sunset. I think I went to Pier 39 once when I was like six years old. Who comes to the Embarcadero? No one. It’s funny when you’re first starting out and people go, ‘So where’s a good place to eat around here?’ And I go, ‘Well not around here.’
Pedicabs are really silly so people get in and they’re always giggling and having a blast and if they’re feeling feisty they’re going to start grabbing your butt. I’m sitting on that seat right there, my butt’s in your face the whole time. I say, ‘Hey! that’s five dollars every pinch.’
We have a little chart right here that says, let’s see what it says. It says thank you for choosing Cabrio Taxi, we have fully functional signals and brake lights. A seat belt is available and we encourage you to use it. These are the rules here, do not stand on the pedicab or sit on the fiberglass carriage, so no sitting on the edges here. We’re not responsible for reckless behavior, etc., etc.
People like to get wild in here sometimes, especially when they’ve been drinking. Oh there was actually a funny story yesterday. One of our riders was coming back to the shop and picked up a group of four drunk girls who were trying to give people high fives as they were going by and this cyclist who was coming the other way went for a high five but before he even got the high five he just lost his balance and just fell right in front of them. So that was a scary moment when he was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to cause an accident because of these crazy drunk girls.’
It really is a lifestyle it’s more than just a job. I wake up in the morning some days, like today, it’s a Friday, it’s sunny out, I know there’s gonna be tons of people out. I was excited to come to work today. When you’re excited it makes you want to work longer and it makes you happier.
I would not like to do this for the rest of my life but until I find something better, this is it.
Plan your own pedicab ride here.
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