Daniel Dominic is hitching his living to Cleveland. Two years ago, he staked a bet on attractions like the casino, the convention center and three hotels coming downtown.
In starting up Ride on Pedicabs, he will win or lose based on the draw of visitors willing to hop into one of his five, open-air rickshaws in their quest for dinner and drinks.
“I thought, all this talk of tourism, maybe the time is right to start out at the ground floor,” he says.
This past summer, the horde of people walking around downtown gave him a leg up.
“Obviously, this works in places with more density,” he says. “Most of the time people using it for transportation say, it’s so hard to catch a cab.”
Pedicabs may be short on speed, but they’re long on experience. And when your customers are swilling $10 martinis they’re less particular about when they’re arriving or even where they're going.
“It’s a spectrum from very practical to very impracticable, like going literally across the street from E. 4th to the Chocolate Bar on Euclid. I had one guy who said, I’m going to give you a hundred bucks to find me a good restaurant.”
Five pedicab drivers with a goal of earning $100 to $200 a night is a marker of a city with good bones; Downtown Cleveland has just enough density and growth in tourism (business men and suburbanites out for a good time).
They'll do some tours from hotel to lakefront or Rock Hall, but nighttime fares pay half his wage. Advertisements on the pedicab for local restaurants like Sushi 86, Gypsy Bean and Happy Dog cover the rest of his modest needs.
“I’ve had people ask if we have hot dogs or sushi on board,” he says with a chuckle.
He plies his trade mostly in the summer around E. 4th and W. 6th streets. He tested a daytime service downtown but says it didn’t pan out. Lately he’s been scrapping to break into the Market District. He says the Near West side would need another destination (maybe if Hingetown takes off) between W. 25th and W. 65th to operate a pedicab service between.
Turning serious, he says a concierge business for take-away or green grocers might be in the offing. He’s chummy with and wouldn’t mind hooking up with the bike composting guys. He got a big boost during the Tribe playoffs but now that the snow if flying, his trikes are more idle.
“I’m just a lowly pedicab operator. I’ll sweep floors if you’ve got some that need sweeping.”
Ride On's Facebook page touts the pedicab as the “green alternative to smelly cars.” Asked about this, Dominic, who lives in Lakewood with his two-year old daughter and without a car, says it ultimately doesn’t matter if his customers are aware that they’re choosing a low-carbon option or if they just want something to post on their social media page between hipster destinations.
“We can get people who are a little skeptical, but 9 out of 10 times we get 20 feet down the road and they say it’s the best decision they ever made.”
The 8 years Dominic worked as a bike messenger gave him a “sense of the flow of the city. I know where people are and where they like to be.” It also gave him connections to private funders who agreed to help him buy his first two rickshaws—on the Internet.
When asked what would make Cleveland a more bike friendly place, he shies away from an answer but adds that Cleveland drivers are respectful. He offers this advice to those who aren't.
“If you see someone in front of you, don’t run them over, no matter who they are. This is my workplace.”