Maxwell Austin, owner of Glass City Pedicabs, and his daughter Alora, 8, show off one of the bicycle taxis that are ferrying passengers in Toledo for tips. He says he hopes to increase his fleet from four to 15 over the next five years. Riders take the pedicabs from their workplaces to lunch, from the ballpark to restaurants, or from bar to bar on weekends.
Is it a bicycle? Is it a taxi?
Nope, it's both.
Pedicabs, also referred to as bicycle taxis, have appeared on the streets of downtown Toledo in the past nine months, ferrying folks from baseball games to restaurants or just taking them on a ride up and down the street.
Although only one company -- Glass City Pedicabs -- operates these slow-rolling vehicles right now, the number has grown from one to four since September. Owner Maxwell Austin said he hopes to increase that to at least 15 over the next five years.
It's a welcome sign of the growing popularity of Toledo's downtown, officials say.
With more pedicabs anticipated to hit the streets, the city is looking to revamp its 15-year-old regulations for the vehicles.
City council is to vote Tuesday on the new rules, which include requiring owners and operators to apply for permits, obtain $1 million liability insurance, and add safety features such as headlights and taillights to the pedicabs.
"It strengthens the standards for owners, operators, and the actual pedicabs themselves," said Councilman Steven Steel, who proposed the update. "The pedicab has to be more than a loveseat on a wagon pulled behind a bike. It has to be built as a pedicab with lights, with horn, with turn signals, those kind of things."
Pedicabs have been growing in popularity across the United States and are found in many major cities as well as some smaller ones. They serve primarily as a transportation option for people looking to travel distances that are a little far to walk but don't warrant a regular taxi cab.
In Toledo, Glass City Pedicabs takes people to and from downtown and UpTown.
These two up-and-coming areas are separated by blocks of marginal public interest, so it makes sense to jump onto a human-powered vehicle, Mr. Austin said.
People also take the bicycle taxis from their workplaces to lunch, from the ballpark to restaurants, or from bar to bar on the weekends. The pedicab operators work for tips only, which Mr. Austin said is enough to turn a profit while making the rides affordable for many types of customers.
"Many cab drivers won't take you for just a block or two. … Pedicabs are there to pick up the slack," Mr. Austin said. "We're a fast and economical way to move through downtown."
So far, Glass City Pedicabs customers have included Mayor Mike Bell, city councilmen, and Mud Hens players, the owner said.
Pedicabs are not completely new here. Toledo first passed legislation in 1997 requiring licensing of pedicabs, apparently after someone expressed interest, although nothing happened at that time.
During the 1980s, four pedicabs operated in the riverfront area but didn't get a warm reception from police, Mr. Austin said. A Blade story in 2005 refers to a start-up pedicab group called TinLizzy Transport Co., but it's unclear what became of the operation.
Mr. Austin, who lobbied for the pedicab code changes, said it was time Toledo brought its regulations into line with the rest of the country.
"Since 1997, the pedicab industry across America has grown exponentially, and so a lot of things have changed. In 1997 no one ever thought about putting blinkers on your pedicab," he said. "From being [in other cities] and seeing the rules and regulations put into place because of trials and errors that have already happened, I'd like for those things not to occur here."
The new rules also require background checks for pedicab drivers, which Mr. Austin said he already performs. He said his concern is with keeping pedicabs safe, helping the city generate revenue through permit fees, and paving the way for anyone looking to set up such a business.
Mr. Austin said he was inspired to set up a pedicab company in Toledo after spending several years in San Diego, where the industry is well established. There, the business has expanded from a couple of companies a decade ago to 15 or 20, he said.
Originally from upstate New York, Mr. Austin lived for four years in Toledo before moving to California. When he returned, he decided the time was ripe for pedicabs.
"I'd say with the renewal of people wanting to bring awesomeness to downtown, that's really helped the pedicabs," he said. "When you think pedicab, you think of big cities: New York, L.A., the Florida Keys. You don't think Detroit, you don't think Toledo. But there's pedicabs in both. … If that doesn't say we're a city, I don't know what does."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.