Published March 15, 2006 by RockyMountain News
By Joanne Kelley, Rocky Mountain News
BROOMFIELD – Main Street Pedicabs has grown in fits and starts since Steve Meyer founded the company 14 years ago.
Based in this northern suburb of Denver, the company has turned out about 1,000 of its pedal-powered taxis throughout the years. But the rickshawlike contraptions have become a familiar sight in more and more downtown areas around the globe – most recently in Manhattan’s bustling, traffic-clogged Times Square.
Meyer, 52, hadn’t intended to start a business when he first bought a pedicab from an acquaintance in Aspen. But when he had trouble getting replacement parts for his hobby vehicle, he soon found himself trying to build a better one from scratch.
“I always kind of had a vision they could be used in America, but I didn’t know I was going to be the guy to do it,” said Meyer, who spent the early part of his career doing market research and planning for developers.
Initially, New Yorkers seemed reluctant to be seen in pedicabs. Like self-conscious teenagers, some requested they be dropped a block away from their destinations.
A spate of publicity has helped to spur acceptance.
A bright-yellow model is featured prominently on the cover of the Fodor’s New York City 2006, a guide to the city.
Contestants pedaled them a few months ago on NBC’s weight-loss show, The Biggest Loser. An appearance on The Apprentice two years ago helped to fuel interest.
But Main Street Pedicabs has grown in a number of directions from its manufacturing roots. Selling advertising space on the back of the taxis has become a significant part of the business. And Meyer is a co-owner of several pedicab-operating companies around the country, including Mile High Pedicabs in Denver.
“I make more money operating a pedicab than making one,” he said.
“The business works for us because we’re involved in so many facets of it,” Meyer said Tuesday in his newly expanded office, which still smelled strongly of a fresh coat of green paint.
Meyer gets help from his wife, Ruth Vanderkooi, when she’s not tending to her family medical practice. Otherwise, he has just a few full-time employees who assemble the pedicabs one at a time in space above the company’s offices.
As Meyer sits at his computer, he sees a call coming in from Tel Aviv, Israel, where he has been talking to someone who wants to buy a couple of the pedicabs for his own personal use.
Individuals increasingly have been buying the pedicabs to use in town or to get around islands where parking is scarce.
The pedicabs start at $2,900 but can cost as much $5,000 with all the options. They are built like mountain bikes, with 21 speeds, and have a cushioned carriage in the rear for toting passengers.
Meyer, who grew up in Boulder, said he is often questioned about whether he pursued pedicabs because of environmental concerns. But he insists his main motivation is “improving the quality of life” in cities. “I’d rather promote something than list all the things I’m against,” he said.
In Denver, pedicabs tend to operate on nights and weekends, during ballgames and other events that require people to walk several blocks from parking areas or light-rail stops.
“They add a real vitality to downtown,” said Tami Door, president of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “People like it because it’s fun. Downtowns should be fun.”
Ed Oliver, who is Meyer’s partner in the Denver pedicab operation, said he often drives a pedicab around the Pepsi Center parking lot, offering free rides during events. In most cases, passengers wind up tipping him at least $5 a ride.
“People hate walking across parking lots,” Meyer said.
With a new St. Louis Cardinals ballpark set to open in April, a budding pedicab operator awaits her order from Main Street Pedicabs.
“We want to get a business started just to and fro,” said St. Louis resident Jill Saettele, an avid cyclist who found Main Street Pedicabs on the Internet. “The parking (at the new stadium) is very limited, so they’re doing shuttles. This is the most fantastic opportunity.”
The pedicabs have caught on most in urban environments, but have also captured the attention of an array of communities with a shortage of downtown parking.
Meyer initially thought Aspen might be a good market. “But nobody who would drive one could afford to live in Aspen,” he said.
A new customer from Crested Butte picked one up Monday, with hopes of building a following in the ski town.
Long Beach, Calif., is about to get a fleet of pedicabs for its downtown.
“It’s part of the overall eclectic experience we’re trying to create,” said Kraig Kojian, president of Downtown Long Beach Associates, the improvement district for the oceanfront community. “We don’t have seasons, so people can enjoy the experience throughout the year.”
Main Street Pedicabs
• Home base: Broomfield
• Founded: 1992
• Products: Bicycle-powered taxis selling for between $2,900 and $5,000, with all the options
• Markets: Urban areas such as New York City, Denver, London, Paris and others