PORTLAND — A fleet of bicycle taxis — pedicabs they’re called — is scheduled to be roaming Portland’s downtown and Old Port areas this summer looking for tourists and others in search of a gasoline-free lift.
Although bike taxis aren’t new, this startup business, Maine Pedicab, has an intriguing feature: The rides will be free.
Maine Pedicab hopes to have a fleet of eight bicycle taxis — holding two adults and a driver — on the streets of Portland this summer, with drivers working for tips only. So whether you want to go a couple blocks down Commercial Street from Becky’s Diner to the Maine State Pier, or from one end of downtown to the other, the price will be the same.
Whatever you want.
“Right now we’re only working for tips, so it’s whatever you feel like tipping,” said Nate Hamburger, manager of Maine Pedicab, who has driven bike taxis in Old Orchard Beach and Portland. “In my experience, the tip model works out well, because people always have a good time and they want to tip well.”
Maine Pedicab opened for business in early April and is currently hiring drivers. So far, the company has one driver in place, who was seen outside Hadlock Field this past weekend looking to drive folks home or back to their cars after Sea Dogs baseball games.
The company has eight pedicabs right now at its Fore Street office, six of which are already licensed. Maine Pedicab is part of a larger company known as USA Pedicab, which started in Boston in 2005 and now has locations in more than a half-dozen cities, said Justin Bruce, general manager of USA Pedicab.
Bruce said the plan in Portland is to hire about 25 drivers, who would work the pedicabs in shifts. He and Hamburger envision the pedicabs carrying tourists around the Old Port, picking up passengers from docked cruise ships, and helping people get to their cars after events like the Old Port Festival, a Sea Dogs game or a concert on the waterfront.
Bruce said he picked Portland as a pedicab business location because he likes to visit here and he knows there are tourists who might enjoy the “transportainment” provided by an open-air taxi ride. He also knows that the city’s downtown and waterfront can be fairly limited when it comes to parking spaces, and that recently there haven’t been a lot of bike taxis in town.
Hamburger said he’s in the midst of “intensive hiring” for a crew of drivers to be in place sometime later this spring. Drivers need to be 21 or older, have a Maine driver’s license and be in good physical shape.
Hamburger said that by having a fleet of eight pedicabs, all with bright-green riding compartments, he hopes Maine Pedicab will be more visible than bike taxi services in the past.
“When I did it (in Portland) I was the only guy, but you really need to have a fleet to be visible,” he said.