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Pedaling for Fares on Wall Street

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  • Robert J. Matter
    Pedaling for Fares on Wall Street By Pamela Sebastian Ridge 10/12/2001 The Wall Street Journal Page B1 (Copyright (c) 2001, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) With few
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 14, 2001
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      Pedaling for Fares on Wall Street
      By Pamela Sebastian Ridge

      The Wall Street Journal
      Page B1
      (Copyright (c) 2001, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

      With few taxicabs on the streets of New York's financial district, a
      tiny fleet of bicycle-powered rickshaws is pedaling hard to fill the

      Lisa Stephens was lugging a laptop, a backpack and two plastic bags to
      the Staten Island ferry terminal about 10 blocks from her office when a
      pedicab powered by Petar Timotic came to her rescue. "Necessity is the
      mother of invention," hollered Ms. Stephens, an examining officer in
      bank supervision at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as the
      pedicab rumbled over potholes and cobblestones near the New York Stock
      Exchange. Six minutes later she was at the ferry.

      "Petar, this was great!" Ms. Stephens said as she handed him a $10
      bill, $5 more than they had negotiated.

      Immediately after the attack on the World Trade Center, regular
      taxicabs and passenger cars were banned from lower Manhattan. Recently,
      some have been allowed in, but many streets are still off limits,
      making driving slow and difficult. Meanwhile, the subways are often
      jammed at rush hour and a number of stations are still out of

      Bicycle taxis used to peddle their services in midtown, picking up
      tourists in the theater district and around hotels. But when the
      tourist trade fell off in the days after the attack, the cabs moved to
      the financial district. Business people, many of whom had never seen a
      pedicab before, quickly climbed aboard, often for short rides to a
      ferry or subway or to catch a taxicab just outside the restricted zone.
      Soon tourists visiting the remains of the Twin Towers were also hopping
      a ride.

      Pedicab drivers typically charge 50 cents to $1 a minute, often
      negotiating a fare when the customer climbs aboard and then hoping for
      a tip at the end of the ride. Their vehicles resemble giant tricycles,
      with two wheels in the back supporting the carriage and several gears
      that enable drivers to pull up to 800 pounds.

      There isn't a clear count on the number of pedicab operators in
      Manhattan, but Mr. Timotic's cab comes from Pedicabs of New York, also
      known as PoNY Cabs, which leases about 30 pedicabs for $40 each a day.

      On Sept. 11, a couple of pedicab drivers cleared more than $500, double
      their typical take on a good day. PoNY's owner, George Bliss, was
      concerned about seeming to profiteer. He recalls saying: "You had your
      best day on New York's worst day." But many other drivers gave free
      rides to rescue workers and to pedestrians who were fleeing the area.
      On Sept. 12, Mr. Bliss, who teaches a class called Design in Motion at
      New School University's Parsons School of Design, shut down his
      business for a day to show respect for the attack's victims.

      Pedicab drivers' budgets are often as lean as their physiques. Kevin
      O'Neill, 58 years old, said he earned very little the first week and
      was having trouble paying some of his bills. Wearing a striped shirt
      with a bow tie, shorts and socks with an American flag, he cheerfully
      carted a passenger around the financial district. "There are throngs of
      people coming down here" well into the evening, he said. "I think it's
      good for them to experience it in person, to see it as a fact, not just
      on TV."

      A couple visiting New York from Israel flagged him down near the
      Brooklyn Bridge to ask where they could get their own pedicab. "We
      really want to do the Brooklyn Bridge, but our feet are killing us,"
      said Irene Alvarez.

      Waiting for a fare with other pedicabbers on Nassau Street near the New
      York Stock Exchange, Frank Bogues, a 35-year-old actor and writer,
      called out "bicycle taxi!" and trilled the little bell on his
      handlebars. One of his passengers was Michael Lefkowitz, a 51-year-old
      administrative law judge who works in Brooklyn and lives in Fairview,
      N.J. Last Friday evening, he had gotten off a subway in Manhattan and
      was hoping to catch a taxicab down to the ferry terminal to get a ride
      across the Hudson River.

      "Frank [passengers often get to be on a first-name basis with their
      drivers] came up to me and said `you need a cab?' I thought he was
      kidding," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "Then he said it was a $6 fare and that
      sounded pretty good to me."

      "He got me there in six minutes flat and I'm pretty heavy," Mr.
      Lefkowitz added. "I don't know how he did it."

      The load factor for Yves Perisse, a 33-year-old native of Lyons,
      France, was even more formidable. He encountered Danielle Kaplan, who
      was forced to evacuate her apartment in Battery Park City, when she was
      trying to move some of her belongings to the West Village with the help
      of a cousin.

      "We couldn't get on the subway with all this stuff," said Ms. Kaplan, a
      professor of technology and education at Columbia University Teachers
      College. But the two women managed to squeeze into Mr. Perisse's
      carriage, along with two suitcases, a duffel bag and a grocery cart
      stuffed with belongings. She figured the baggage alone weighed about
      100 pounds.

      "I'm used to it," said Mr. Perisse as he pedaled the women out of the
      restricted zone to find a yellow cab.

      Since the bicycle taxis aren't motorized, they aren't regulated by the
      New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission and drivers aren't licensed.
      PoNY's Mr. Bliss, who carries liability insurance, said that this is
      the first time in six years that his business will show a profit, on
      revenue of about $120,000.

      In the aftermath of the Trade Center attack the city's more than 12,000
      licensed taxicab drivers are hurting, but they don't begrudge the
      pedicabs their business. "We're vehicles. They're bikes. When it gets
      cold out, they're out of business," said Fernando Mateo, president of
      the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. "I give them a lot of
      credit," he added. "They're out there physically working out to get
      people around."
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