A talk with a pedicab driver who loves his job
By Richard Davis
TFW Staff Writer
It’s always nice to see someone who likes what they do for a living, and Jacob Richardson clearly loves his job.
The 29-year-old full-time student and pedicab driver is currently sidelined from the pedal-powered business with a broken foot, but he’s definitely ready to get back in the saddle soon.
“I’m going up at NWACC for my associate’s degree in environmental science. I do well enough at this job it’s the only job I have to have, and it’s perfect for me with my school schedule,” Jacob said.
Jacob works as an independent contractor for the Fayetteville Pedicab Co., renting the vehicle from owner Jason Sexton and then making his money solely off tips from riders. You can ride completely for free, if you don’t mind people rightly thinking you’re a soulless stain on humanity.
He and the other four or so drivers generally work Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from about 9 to around 3:30 in the morning, but Jacob said they’re trying to figure out other times of the day where the service might be wanted. Pedicab drivers are also waiting to see if the Fayetteville City Council will approve some amendments that could help the business offer more services and bring in extra revenue.
Woo Pig Sooie
One thing the pedicab drivers are hoping to get back is the ability to work on Razorback Road, taking folks from their vehicles to the stadium and back on game days.
Before the city shut down the pedicabs temporarily last year while officials figured out how to regulate it, Jacob said game days were very good for business.
“It was very lucrative for us. Specifically, I remember the Arkansas-Alabama game was the best money day I’ve had so far,” Jacob said, estimating he pulled in about $1,000 while enduring a deluge of “Sweet Home Alabama” from Crimson Tide fan riders.
The amendment the council is looking at would let pedicab drivers back on Razorback and potentially other roads during special events with prior approval from the city’s transportation director.
The council has also been considering a proposal to give pedicabs access to Fayetteville’s trail system.
“I think it would give us more daytime stuff to try out, running people during the week who use it to walk or between bus stops. There was a long time where I didn’t have any vehicle but my bike so I kind of learned how the city operated that whole way. There’s a lot of bus stops that are at sections of the bike trail so I think we could move people between stops real easily,” Jacob said.
However, the council agenda session Tuesday, April 12 revealed the amendment will likely be changed to restrict trail usage from the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Some residents have voiced safety and congestion concerns, though Jason Sexton has repeatedly spoken at council meetings about how drivers have been certified by police, the pedicabs’ low rate of speed — 5 mph — and minimal numbers — seven pedicabs at most.
“Safety is our big thing. That’s drilled into us every day,” Jacob said. “When we go into the shop to get the bikes out, we go over tire pressure, check all the electrical stuff out. We go over everything to make sure it’s completely safe and operable.
“Whenever we are on the roads we obey all the signs, traffic rules. We don’t run out in front of people, we don’t cut people off. We’re constantly paying attention, and we’ve never had an incident. It’s a big deal for us because if something happens it’s really going to affect the business.”
Another revenue gainer for pedicabs could be through adding small advertisements on the back of the vehicles.
“The advertising stuff, the revenue from that would be good for us, and I know he (Jason) wants to keep it local, doing like restaurants and stuff in this area that we could actually take people to,” Jacob said. “I think that’d be a really good thing. It’d definitely bring in money for us.”
However, city attorney Kit Williams has not been in favor of this, fearing the pedicab exemption would weaken Fayetteville’s potent sign ordinance, opening up a hole for someone such as a billboard company to take the city to court. There’s even an amendment on the table to revoke the advertising exemption for taxicabs. Council member Sarah Lewis has been vocal in her support of shoring up the city’s sign regulation.
The city council will look at the pedicab and taxicab amendments for the third and likely final time at the next city council meeting April 19.
Web Extended Interview
Jacob Richardson said he’s the only driver left with the Fayetteville Pedicab Co. from before the time when the city shut the service down while officials figured out how to regulate the business.
“I think it was about six weeks until we were back in business. He (owner Jason Sexton) finally called me and said ‘We’re back in business.’ I was so happy. I was still doing that door-to-door job, and I was like ‘Oh my god, I need to get out of here.’ I knew I was going to make enough money that I could quit it, and that’s what happened after I got my permit. Screw knocking on doors.”
Jacob said the shutdown took them completely by surprised. People were using the pedicab service readily and voiced approval to the drivers. Once the regulation went through the City Council, Jacob still had to get O-ffically certified.
“It took about a week and a half. I had to go through a training thing with Jason and show I knew how to operate the bike and all that stuff. He had to sign off on some paperwork. I had to fill out — basically, it was like a very intense job application, where it was residences, past residences. They did a full background check on me. After all that I got my permit.”
The permit took $35 out of Jason’s pocket, but he made the money back plus some on his first night.
“It wasn’t too much of a hassle — just the wait,” Jacob said.
The relationship between pedicabs and Fayetteville has been plagued from early on by a pretty common bug: miscommunication.
While the Arkansas-Alabama football brought in some serious cash and went smoothly, the following games brought some mixed signals from police. If pedicabs were on the sidewalk, Jacob said some officers would tell them they had to be on the road. When on the street, other officers would tell them to get on the sidewalk.
For Bikes, Blues & BBQ, Jacob said Jason Sexton believed he had permission from the city for the cabs to operate on Dickson during the festival. With all the people there, Jacob figured on making some excellent bank.
“I get out there and picked up my first ride before I even got to Dickson: ‘Oh, we want to go up to Mickey Finn’s.’ So I came down West Street here and went up on Dickson to Mickey Finn’s. I made it up to Kosmos and where all that stuff is and I had like five cops waiting for me. ‘Get off Dickson! Pull off the road!’”
Jacob told police he thought the city had given permission for the pedicabs to work, but officers told him if he was seen on Dickson again, he’d get a ticket. So, he bailed that night and didn’t try to work the festival again.
Like any business, the pedicab company is looking for ways to bring in more revenue. Jacob said there’s been talks with restaurants about being rented out as a valet service. If allowed to display advertisements, the pedicabs could also have signs made up to slap on representing a particular restaurant.
Jacob said there’s also been talk about the pedicabs being a possible presence of transportation for Wakarusa. Jacob, who’s also going to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, is pulling for that happen, essentially giving him two straight weeks of outdoor tunes.