Story by Ceci Gonzales
Photos by Elise Cardenas
Music booms out of the speakers while he peddles through the streets of Austin. As the day progresses, he adjusts his music choice to the reflect the energy of the downtown crowd — MGMT for day rides and Calvin Harris at night. A variety of customers hop in, from a couple who just finished a romantic dinner to a young man on Sixth Street who had a little too much to drink. At the end of the night, Joseph Garcia is relieved to call it a day but proud to be a pedicab driver.
Garcia, an 18-year-old sophomore physics major at UT Austin, is one of more than 900 pedicab drivers in Austin. He started in July, but has always had an interest in picking up the trade. “I had ridden in a pedicab last spring, and I really liked it. The guy was really nice,” he says. “I thought to myself ‘This might be something I want to do.’”
Garcia sought out this interest by going to one of the pedicab rental offices in East Austin. After settling with Easy Rider, a pedicab company, Garcia underwent a background and driving history check. He also had to acquire an endorser, a person who owns pedicabs and signs a form that authorizes drivers to take a driving test and rent a cab. He then took a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles where he was tested on basic safety questions. “It’s just like applying for a normal license. They want to make sure you’re cognitive and not a criminal or a reckless driver,” Garcia explains.
Some pedicab garages lease pedicabs at a daily rate, and drivers pay upfront since cabs aren’t necessarily guaranteed on busy days. However, Easy Rider maintains its cabs for free and allows drivers to keep their cab for longer periods of time. This is attractive to pedicab drivers because paying a monthly rate is cheaper than paying a daily rate in the long run. “You don’t have to bring it back, and you get the same [cab]every single time. It’s a nice feeling because you can customize it,” Garcia says. Many drivers use lights, speakers and other decorations to deck out their cabs.
The price to rent a cab varies each month and costs anywhere between $360 and $480. For the month of October the prices are at their highest because of Austin City Limits music festival. “There’s probably about 300 licensed pedicabbers in Austin right now,” Garcia says. “I would say about 70 will come out just for big events like this.”
Garcia recalls the first weekend of ACL being particularly interesting because the festival coincided with the Texas Longhorn football game. “Even though there were a lot more pedicabs, we were spread out pretty thin over the entire city. I didn’t have more than 20 minutes to myself without someone flagging me down and hopping in my cab. People who were tailgating at the football game wanted to go to ACL, and people at ACL wanted rides to West Campus,” Garcia says.
Garcia says he thinks he’s pretty fair with his fees. For short rides, which he considers about four blocks, Garcia charges $4 per person. A ride from West Sixth Street to East Sixth Street is considered an average ride and typically costs $10 per person. Special event rates, such as for ACL, range from $20 to $30 per person.
Garcia puts in a total of 30 hours per week and makes anywhere between $400 and $700, averaging about $10 to $15 per hour. “By the end of that day, you feel kind of sick and extremely exhausted. Being on a bike for 12 hours is pretty tough.”
Garcia averages a span of about 150 miles in a week. “It’s definitely a lot of riding, but not so much stamina. You have a 180-pound cab, as opposed to a normal 120-pound bike, and riders that are about 150 pounds each.” Because Garcia was already involved in athletic activities before starting his pedicab job, producing the necessary stamina and strength was fairly easy for him. It wasn’t until large citywide events that he noticed his physical fitness made a big difference. “I rode almost every day during the summer to basically train for home football games and ACL,” he says.
Thanks to suggestions from other pedicabbers, Garcia incorporates frequent small snacks into his diet that contain electrolytes, proteins and minerals to improve his endurance. “On the days I work, I eat two to three bananas in the form of a fruit smoothie, and I like to add coconut milk for extra electrolytes,” Garcia explains. “I eat a lot of granola, greek yogurt, and dried fruit as well.” When asked why he pedicabs, Garcia says the job incorporates all aspects of a balanced life. “It’s a fantastic job. Before, if I wanted a part-time job there wasn’t a way to maintain school, a bit of a social life, and exercise. I feel like I kind of just merged all those together,” Garcia says.
Above all, Garcia says he tries to make his rides as comfortable as possible for his customers. “I try to give them the best experience that I can while they’re there. We’re not just transportation, we’re — to a certain extent — a part of your downtown experience,” Garcia says.