Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pedicab History Lesson

Found the following on a web forum, really interesting stuff......

"Not all that exciting but a potted history goes thusly:

They were started in about '98 by a Simon Lane, an entrepreneurial cambridge drop-out who'd worked on the punts on the river before buying a pedicab from San Francisco. He then moved to London and set up in an arch near southwark street. When I started, aged 21, there were 6 heavy old bikes and a rotating pool of about 10 riders. Real characters. A mate of mine has made a documentary about a couple of them and a few are still riding. I've got tons of stories stashed away somewhere from those early days. We were all self employed and rented the cabs by the night (or week) and generally worked from 7pm to 4 or 5am (then drank till dawn and cycled home though rush hour, pissed as wizards with pockets stuffed with pound coins). There were only a few of us and we were all pretty close, super competitive and really quite naughty. It was fucking hard work but quite possibely the most fun I've ever had.

I don't know who this chump is but the pic shows one of the original 6 bikes. They had three speed Sturmey Archers and weighed about a ton. They were tough as anything though...and you could ride them on two wheels.
On my first ever shift, right after my first ever fare I got stopped by the BTP in Leicester Square and was charged with a whole host of taxi licencing related things. The black cabs union had been leaning on the BTP for a test case and I was it. I got issued with a summons a week later. As a full time student I got legal aid and Simon sorted me out with an excellent lawyer who sepcialised in environmental law. Around this time the company was taken over by Chris Green who rechristened it "bugbugs" and it all got a fair bit more professional. They bought about 20 of those nasty flimsy yellow trishaws you still see around and kitted out the arch with compressors, chargers for lights, sofas, gave us ID badges, brought in rules and fines and even organised a "rider of the year" award dinner. That ended in a full on chair-throwing drunken brawl in the Firestation at Waterloo. Happy days!
I started attending court regularly as the case plodded on over the course of a year. The charges were all things like "Trading as an illegal Hackney Carriage", "Plying for hire without a license" etc. Luckily our cheeky cambridge drop-out originator had really done his research and our case was based on a clever little loophole. Basically, when you hire a black cab you hire the entire vehicle and driver. When you hire a pedicab you hire only your seat in the vehicle. That way we came under the Victorian "Stage Coach and Carriage" licensing laws and not the Hackney Carriage laws. All we had to do was charge per person, and we were gravy. All the cabs had legal notices in them stating that you were hiring your place in the vehicle, not the vehicle, quoting the relevant legistaltion and displaying evidence of our insurance details (all passengers were insured). The case plodded on for over a year and eventually after nine seperate appearances at Bow Street magistrates all charges were dropped.

Bugbugs was growing fast and getting a bit too organised and restrictive for some tastes a few of the original guys defected back to Simon who'd hooked up with the lovely Rob Brock to provide a pair of his new invention, the Brox. Sadly Rob died last year (I only just found out having not seen him for a while).

Lovely bloke.

We'd had two of these early designs of his at Bugbugs and always bickered about who got to ride them as they were so much fun:So Rob and Simon started out all over again with two new Brox cabs in a shed on Battlebridge Road behind King's Cross. The idea was that an individual or pair of riders would take "ownership" of their particular cab. We paid a monthly rent, came and went as we pleased, were responsible for the maintenance (parts were provided free issue) and worked where and when we felt like it. There were four riders initially,it was me and my friend Guigs and the other "team" were Richard and Zero. Zero was a mostly toothless bald courier from leeds with a penchant for du-rags and hoop earrings. Supersweet guy. Richard lived with him, big tall black guy with a bleached beard. Comulsive liar as it turns out. Hey ho. Lost touch with both of them sadly. We used to take the heavy bodywork off the cabs and hammer round town on just the chassis during the day. They started out like this:But by the time we'd finished with them they had skinny high pressure tyres, no body and would endo when you hit the front (disc) brakes. They were so much fun. Especially in the wet, you could drift them, ride up and down kerbs, hammer round hairpins without letting up for a second. In fact I think part of the reason I started to edge out of the scene is that I was having far more fun riding than making money. Making money meant you had to put the seats back on and the massive canopy and plod about ringing your bell and yadda yadda yadda. It was far more fun to go racing round the underground carpark under St Pancras, which is where we moved to next.

The plan with that little enterprise was that riders would save money and eventually buy their own bike and start up on their own. Most of us didn't have the sense to see this though and just carried on riding but a few really went for it and as that operation started to grow a few guys set out on their own. One of the riders, an Kiwi guy who was one of the originals and consinstantly the highest earner in any given night started up with a couple of these monstrocities: They turned out to be very reliable though and the riders liked them. The original "manager" from the the early days, "Spider", set up his own company called Chariot Bikes with those weird backward trikes. I think he abandoned them after an accident and went over the the above Cycles Maximus bikes too. He's still going strong. As is Bugbugs, Simon, and a dozen other small operations.

Around that time Simon sold the operation again and we moved into a creepy "barn full of sharp things" straight out of a horror movie in the catacombs under Bagley's Warehouse. Which is where as we got up to about seven or so bikes (and as one of half a dozen seperate operations) I bowed out after three years of service. I was sick of the nights, living hand to mouth, cash in hand. But mostly I was fed up with dealing with the customers (all drunk, mostly girls, screeching and treating you like a comedy slave). I just needed a change.

I pottered round the fringes for a bit, renting the odd bike, doing some Ad-Bike stuff and pondering my next move but I never went back. It had changed quite a lot and their were scores of riders out there fighting over the same fares. No-one knew anyone else any more and all the good spots were teeming with cabs, blocking the roads and annoying other road users.

The cabbies brought the case again a year or so later and my case was referred to. As far as i'm aware (despite an ill advised campaign featuring a massive billboard of a black cab ploughing into a pedicab full of innocent crash test dummies on the side of London Bridge) the charges were thrown out again.

And that, in a very long rambly nutshell, is it. Or my involvement with it anyway. I have a few General Lucifer-esque stories about the original crew of riders stashed away somewhere. I'll try and dig them out soon."


ricky said...

Your next cab ride around Philly may be inside a Velo-parkcab. The Philadelphia-based company happily announced that pedicabs in Philly are now legal, having received a stamp of approval by Mayor Nutter. The Velo-parkcab looks like the combination of a Smart Car and a bike, pedaled by manpower.

Pedicab hire

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