New Haven transportation has some new competition—pedicabs.
In October, co-founders and avid cyclists — and both past and present Yalies — Paul Hammer SOM ’85, John Binford MED ’12 and Jongwook “Wookie” Kim ’09 officially launched CaBike!, a dream of theirs almost two years in the making. Customers can either hail a pedicab, a bike that transports two passengers, or call a dispatch number in advance to go to a destination within New Haven, and can choose their own fare. So far, Yalies and even local cab drivers have been receptive to the service.
CaBike! is not only a pedicab business, Hammer said, but more importantly, it serves as the “for-profit” arm of the nonprofit Bicycle Education, Entrepreneurship and Enrichment Program, more commonly known as BEEEP!, Inc.
“That’s the beauty of social enterprise,” Hammer said. People may not usually take a pedicab to get around, but they will if the money goes toward a good cause, he added.
BEEEP!, Inc., which receives all profits after costs from the pedicab business, educates young people in New Haven about bicycle safety while providing them with fitness and nutrition programs aimed at diabetics and pre-diabetics, Hammer said. He frequently leads bike trips for six to 12 kids to East Shore Park, a waterfront park 20 minutes from downtown New Haven.
“A lot of kids from New Haven had no idea they lived near the water — it was a revelation to some of them,” Hammer said.
BEEEP!, Inc. also intends to lend its support to young men in the New Haven community by forming a men’s support group at the Fair Haven Community Health Center, with a bicycle component to the program, according to Binford. Binford wants to work in conjunction with the New Haven Bike Collective to provide these men with free bikes on the condition that they help repair some bikes too.
“Bikes are enablers of transportation, health and community,” co-founder Binford said. “And it’s a serious workout too.”
But in order for BEEEP!, Inc. to be successful, CaBike! must make a profit after paying off insurance costs, lease fees and registration expenses. CaBike! has leased three “gold standard” pedicabs, worth $5,000, for only $500 per cab per month from David St. Germain, former owner of Treehugger Taxi, a pedicab business in West Hartford. St. Germain has provided the pedicabs to CaBike! without charging interest fees, Hammer said. Additionally, St. Germain has given CaBike! the option to purchase the pedicabs if the business is successful. And so far, according to Hammer, CaBike! has done well enough to sustain operations, even with the motto, “You set the fare and we’ll take you anywhere.”
“Our motto sparks a conversation about who we are and I think that people like the idea that they are not on a meter,” Hammer said. Kim also stressed that the goal of CaBike! is for pedicab drivers to engage with passengers — something that Hammer calls “transportainment.”
Though all five Yalies interviewed said they would ride in CaBike!’s pedicabs, Kristen Leung ’14 said that she would be less likely to do it if she was in a rush or if her destination was far away. At first Nick Levine ’14 said that he thought pedicabs were inefficient and expensive. Once he was told about about the business model and pricing scheme, however, he said he would definitely use the service.
Hammer, however, hopes to get Yalies involved not only as passengers but also as volunteers or employees. While Binford said currently there are four licensed pedicab drivers, both Hammer and Binford hope that number grows in the future. Employees can either rent pedicabs from CaBike! for $50 per six-hour shift and keep the rest of the money for themselves or they can volunteer and serve the nonprofit element of the business, Hammer said.
“We want to be able to serve Yale, but we also want Yale students to get involved,” he added.
When asked if any pedicab drivers have faced hostility from cabbies in the community, both Hammer and Binford reported that they have only received positive feedback. Hammer even said that a few taxi drivers have expressed interest in working for CaBike!.
“I get smiles more than anything else,” Hammer said, referring to both cabbies and other drivers.
One cabdriver, Mohammed Ali, agreed, saying that he does not think that cabs are threatened by CaBike!. But Ali did express concerns over the safety of pedicabs, questioning the safety of riding in a pedicab.
Hammer said that CaBike! operates with as many built-in safety features as possible, citing regular inspection of their pedicabs by professionals in addition to mandatory safety classes and background checks for drivers.
CaBike! grew from a friendship between three Yalies who shared a love of bikes into a business operating for the past month. Though Kim has since left New Haven and CaBike! to work for Teach for America in Washington, D.C., Kim said he is still emotionally invested in this project.
“I have full faith that John and Paul will continue providing a fun alternative mode of transportation to New Haven’s residents — and to generally make New Haven a better place,” Kim said in an e-mail.
Binford explains his involvement in CaBike! as an integration of his interests in biking and medicine.
But Hammer, whom Binford described as the driving force behind CaBike!, said he is involved in the business for the enjoyment.
“My motto is this,” Hammer explained. “I went to sleep dreaming life was joy and I woke to find life is service. Some of my work is voluntary and some of it is paid — who cares?” Hammer added he loves that he can bike while making money for his nonprofit.
Hammer insists that there is no better place for pedicabs than New Haven, where the first U.S. bicycle was patented in 1866 by French mechanic Pierre Lallemont.