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Pedicabs rolling into SLC

Published: 04/03/2009
Downtown Salt Lake City's public transportation scene just got a leg up. Well, two.

A new bicycle taxi service called Stick Dog Pedicabs is cruising the capital's bar and restaurant scene -- ready to pedal people between stops, back to the hotel and even home for a "driver" tip.

The rickshaw-like rigs, brightly colored and able to carry two at a time, can be hailed afternoon or evening. And they are rolling just in time for LDS conference weekend.

"Mainly these are really short trips. We're going to be taking people from a bar to a restaurant or the symphony to a restaurant," said Stick Dog owner Bret Cali, an Alaskan transplant who named the business after his Lab-husky mix "Stick." "Once we've become a known presence ... we'll be operating seven days a week."

Besides shuttling the city's night life, the pedicabs are available for city tours and even loops around Liberty Park -- already popular with kids. Cali expects steady demand during conventions, the farmers market at Pioneer Park and the Twilight Concert Series at the Gallivan Center.

The venture fills a void left by Wasatch Pedicab Co., which pedaled into downtown in 2005 but petered out after an insurance dispute with the city.

"This is a step forward in our process of putting a better night life together," raved Bryan Borreson, general manager of Lumpys Downtown who is about to open the Sandbar and Grill across the street from his sports bar. "It's really nice
to have these guys riding around taking people safely from club to club."

Cali, who is counting on plastering the pedicabs with ads, already has a rotating crew of eight drivers for his two-vehicle fleet. He was "flooded" with interest by the capital's rabid bicycling community, including offers to work for free.

Tom Steed, a driver who answered an ad on craigslist, says the 2-week-old venture has been a hit and could go a long way toward keeping drunks out of cars. He recently pedaled a couple from a downtown pub to their home near 800 East and 600 South.

"It's going to be popular in the summertime," he said. "Most of the bellhops at all of the hotels have our business cards. If someone wants lunch delivered, we'll pick it up."

Doug Koob, general manager of the Marriott next to the Gallivan Center, says he will welcome the pedicabs if guests show interest.

"It's unique, it's different," Koob said, comparing the experience to horse-drawn carriage rides. "It could be a very valuable tool."

Nearly 7 feet long, and over $3,500 apiece, the pedicabs are loaded with everything from hydraulic brakes, turn signals and sirens to an awning that shields rain and provides shade. There are even blankets under the padded seats.

Drivers, who get about $5 for a typical downtown trip and can make between $100 and $600 a night, are fingerprinted, subjected to background checks and issued a license. Potentially faster than taxicabs, which often camp at the airport, Cali notes his team "needs to be on our p's and q's" as ambassadors of the city.

But he says City Hall was "ridiculously helpful" in getting the business launched.

"This mayor has stated that clean air and less traffic are priorities. To that end, he seems to be putting his money where his mouth is."

Sophomore Mayor Ralph Becker is an avid cyclist, who frequently campaigned on two wheels.

Despite some nasty weather, Steed says the pedicab debut has been smooth. "I was expecting to get some resistance, maybe from a police officer or two," he said. "But nothing -- I get waves and smiles. It's pretty great."