Greater Greater Washington

Pedicabs gear up for inauguration weekend

Even with this weekend's inauguration festivities projecting to draw significantly smaller crowds than in 2009, the influx of tourists, along with road closures and unseasonal weather, has the local pedicab community gearing up for what will likely be its busiest weekend of the year.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The prospects of a crowd of 700,000 to 800,000 people projects to draw approximately 200 pedicabs to the National Mall and downtown areas to work the inaugural eventsa nearly 100% increase over 2009, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty declared pedicabs to be the "official vehicle" of the presidential inauguration.

"With the heavy influx of folks coming in, and all kinds of activities going on, it's a great opportunity for the pedicab business," says Ron Graham, owner of ShowPeds, LLC, a local pedicab company. "It's such a rare opportunity to have this type of crowd. I would imagine every pedicabber around will be out working."

As is typical of large Washington events, finding ways to provide efficient transportation of the large crowds this weekend poses daunting challenges. The closure of several metro stations, along with restricted vehicle access on the streets surrounding the National Mall and downtown, means that residents and visitors alike may experience more than a few transit headaches.

Pedicabs, however, which operate essentially as a large tricycle with a seat in the rear to carry passengers, are well calibrated to provide for the short to mid-range transportation services that will either be hard to find or difficult to manage on inauguration weekend.

"Transportation for visitors after they get off the metro will be the tricky part," says Alex Lesiak, a veteran pedicab operator who worked the 2008 Inauguration. "South of K Street, pedestrians will have three options for getting around: walk, ride a bike, or take a pedicab."

Indeed, the three-wheeled machines are uniquely positioned to assist families with children, persons with disabilities, tourists unwilling to navigate the Washington grid, and people who are simply exhausted from a long day of walking.

However, given the negative recent publicity surrounding an incident in which a New York City pedicab operator allegedly charged a family an exorbitant amount for a short ride, the pedicab community in Washington sees this weekend as a chance to boost its local profile and its reputation as an ethical industry.

"It's all about protecting the industry's integrity. We don't just see ourselves as giving Point A to Point B rides, we see ourselves as cultural ambassadors to the city," says Lesiak. "Good operators will provide the client with a full service experience at a fair price."

The industry has grown exponentially within the District since first being introduced more than five years ago, with pedicabs becoming increasingly more common around the National Mall, Nationals Stadium, and neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle and U Street. The city now boasts five licensed pedicab companies and more than 100 pedicabs available to operators and riders.

Aaron originally hails from Northern Minnesota and is currently a resident of South Arlington, where he has lived since 2008, Aaron is a graduate of the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN. 

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During the Rally to Restore Sanity, the wife and I decided to hope on a pedicab. We made it two blocks before crowds forced us to walk. Guy asked for $20. I gave it to him, but I probably won't ever ride one again.

by thump on Jan 18, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

Pedicabs kind of freak me out.

by Alan B. on Jan 18, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

They combine the worst attributes of various vehicles - slower than cars, wider than bicycles (making them hard to pass), and given to erratic stops and turns like taxis.

by ah on Jan 18, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

Thump, I am sorry about your pedicab experience in DC. I am a former DC pedicab driver and I can tell you the vast majority of drivers want to delight their passengers at a fair price. I will say that during large Mall events, there is usually a fare premium, but almost all pedicabbers want to make sure there is agreement on price before departure. In addition, now there is regulation that requires such negotiation in advance.

To "Ah", LOL. However, I will say that on the National Mall, pedicabs are particularly useful for those that want an open air look at the monuments and sites, but don't want to -- or can't because of disability -- walk.

By the way, Alex Lesiak -- one of the drivers quoted in this article -- IS the unofficial ambassador for Washington, DC and the National Mall. He's been doing this longer than any other pedicab operator in DC and he has earned the highest respect from other cab operators, the major (even competing) owners of pedicab firms, and his clients, many of them repeat. Alex gives one hell of a tour. If you have the opportunity to take a tour, you can book him through www.dcpedicab.com (my old company), but I think the emails on the contact page work better than the phone number, which usually goes to an answering machine.

by Barry, former Tricycle Pilot on Jan 18, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

Looking forward to my free copy of "Roads Were Not Built for Cars" scheduled for release later this year. It appears 'ah' might want to check it out too as pedal cabs have been in existence for longer than one might believe. #learntounlearn

by Scott M on Jan 24, 2013 11:32 pm • linkreport

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