Pedaling around with Cream City Rickshaw

By - Jul 26th, 2010 04:00 am
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Hybrid fuel cells may be the hottest new thing in automobiles, but the new cross-breed vehicles on Milwaukee streets don’t need a teaspoon of gasoline. Part bicycle, part old-fashioned carriage, Cream City Rickshaw’s pedicabs are the newest and greenest way to travel the city.

The fledgling business officially started last July, when owner Andrew Otis ordered the 15 pedicabs that make up CCR. However, city fees and licenses for the pedicabs bogged him down until August 2009.

Cream City Rickshaw bikes customers throughout the city

“This is our first full season,” said Otis, who was inspired by the pedicabs he saw in Europe, as well as Portland and New York City.

The fleet of rickshaws has been quietly making an impression on Milwaukee. According to the drivers, a ride in a pedicab is more than just getting from place A to place B.

“The point isn’t to get there fast, the point is to enjoy the ride,” said driver Carolyn Weber. “You’re paying for the experience.”

How much do you pay? Well, for the cash-strapped, that might be the best part. CCR doesn’t charge flat fees, leaving it up to the passengers to pay what they think is fair.

The drivers-cum-tour guides have to earn the money, though. Carolyn and her fellow drivers have to know their way around town and be prepared to pedal up to four miles at a time. The biggest priority, however, is making sure that passengers have a good time.

“You have to be … very personable,” Otis said.

Rickshaw's waiting in front of the Oriental Theater

Rickshaw’s waiting outside the Oriental Theater. Photo courtesy of CCR.

Because CCR is still building its reputation, work comes from all sorts of different places. Otis said pedicabs can act as designated drivers, ferrying late-night partiers from bars to their homes, or cycle around during the day and offer rides to tourists. The cabs also work festivals like Jazz in the Park, chauffeur road-weary tourists to Milwaukee’s lakefront attractions and even act as transport for a wedding party. Advertising, particularly with other local businesses, is a big priority as well, though Otis admits they haven’t even “scratched the surface.”

But for all his business’s success, Otis is equally devoted to keeping it environmentally friendly. He’s looking into getting natural hemp T-shirts for the drivers, and recently donated advertising space on the pedicabs to Power Down Week and Energy Independence Day.

“I knew it was going to be eco-friendly,” Otis said. “That’s what I really appreciate about CCR.”

Staying green isn’t “always cost-effective,” he said, “but if I can do it… I will certainly do it.”

CCR also focuses on helping nonprofit agencies and local businesses.

“I love getting behind non-profits,” Otis said.

Just the kind of thing you want to see from a green, home-grown Milwaukee business.

This weekend, TCD teams up with Cream City Rickshaw for the Riverwest 24-Hour Bike Race. Our multimedia team will experience the race first hand, riding along with CCR and filming the cycling madness. Stay tuned for updates and video from the race!

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