A mode of transportation characteristic of the Big Apple will find a home this summer in the Elm City: pedicabs.
Yale Cycling Team member Jongwook “Wookie” Kim ’09 plans to establish a pedicab business — tricycles fashioned into carriage-like cabs — in New Haven, an idea born from a class project last semester in which students were given a $50,000 hypothetical grant to establish a business within a mile of the Yale campus.
Tentatively named CaBike, Kim’s proposed business, established in partnership with a School of Management graduate and School of Medicine freshman, is still in its infancy. Kim, who entered the proposal in the 2009 Y50K Entrepreneurship Competition with its own $50,000 grand prize, is finalizing business plans and garnering city support.
“After a while,” Kim said, “I realized that [my business plan] could actually work as a social enterprise.”
Naturally, he said, he sought out Matthew Feiner, owner of The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop on Chapel Street.
“I’ve been encouraging people to take up the idea of pedicabs,” Feiner said. “We almost bought a pedicab last year and I’m glad we didn’t because that was just when the economy tipped and we had to close the downtown shop. But I’m always supportive of anyone who wants to do it.”
Hoping to avoid Metro Taxi’s $2.25 per mile charge in a faltering economy, Kim said he hoped New Haven residents may be looking for more affordable transportation. Pedicabs, Kim said, can be a good alternative. He added that he is considering a tip-based compensation model for CaBike.
“We aren’t trying to make lots of money,” Kim said. “We plan to use any profits towards the creation of a bicycle/health education program at Haven Free Clinic.”
But chances are they will not make a profit, said West Hartford resident and librarian Dave St. Germain, who established his own pedicab business, Tree Hugger Taxis, last year.
“It is funny to look at my business plan after a year has gone by,” Germain said in an e-mail. “My income projections were so far off base and what I expected to charge for a cab rental was also far from reality. It is very lucky that I did not quit my day job.”
But Kim said there are significant differences between his business model and Germain’s. CaBike, for instance, has established an agreement with Feiner giving them free storage and maintenance services.
In preparation for his business model, Kim said he did some anecdotal research in New York, taking pedicabs on several occasions.
“It seemed like it was being used as a sort of novelty,” he said. “So it’s a concern about whether or not people would take [one] on a regular basis.”
Kim said a preliminary survey he conducted of approximately 2,000 New Haven residents showed wide-reaching support for a pedicab business.
Less than a mile away, New Haven’s Union Station would be an ideal hub for such a business. And city officials agree.
“We should hopefully see the bike lane to and from union station by the end of this year,” said Jim Travers, deputy director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking for New Haven. “We are very interested in talking to [Kim].”
Kim, who will be meeting with Travers on April 7, said he hopes to jump-start his business before he graduates in May and leaves New Haven. Although he said he understands the difficulties of developing and maintaining a nascent business without his physical presence, he hopes his team and the wide community support will maintain the business.
According to the Washington State Energy Office, only 1.6 percent of Americans commute by bicycle.