PROVINCETOWN – When it comes to Cape Cod summer jobs, riding a pedicab around Provincetown has to be one of most colorful gigs around.
P-town Pedicabs brought the unique mode of transportation to Provincetown 10 years ago, and last summer a second company, B&E Pedicabs, which is owned by a former P-town Pedicab driver, began plying Commercial Street for fares.
Like A Fellini Film On Fast Forward
With two pedicab companies now maneuvering around busy Commercial Street, a throughway that is already crammed with pedestrians, a trolley, non-stop cars, drag queens on scooters and bicyclists often going against traffic, there must be something to this business concept.
The heart and soul of the pedicab business is the ride itself. Like the double-decker bus, it is transportation elevated to entertainment.
It’s just plain fun to ride in these things down Commercial Street, taking in a view that is like a Fellini film on fast forward.
In Provincetown, pedicabs operate on a unique business model: Customers pay what they think the ride is worth.
P-town Pedicabs is owned by Bruce VanAllen, 55, and Charlie Hamilton, 48.
Besides running the pedicab business, VanAllen also works as a property manager and waiter and also does painting and construction.
Hamilton is an information technology professional for a software company in Boston.
VanAllen introduced the concept of pedicabs to Provincetown and helped write the rules and regulations for the vehicles. As for the competition, he said he hopes the other company plays by the rules so they don’t ruin it for everyone.
Many Weddings & A Funeral
P-town Pedicabs operate May through Halloween and can also be rented for special events. “We have done many, many weddings and one funeral,” VanAllen said.
In answer to an unasked question about the funeral, he quickly added, “There is cremation.”
VanAllen said his drivers have said it’s the best job they’ve ever had. “It allows you to give and get 110 percent,” he said.
The hardest part? Rain.
As for the riding, Van Allen said, “It’s a mental thing. All this effort, all this energy, once you wrap your mind around that, it’s doable.”
Like Steering A Tricycle
P-town Pedicabs trains its drivers and VanAllen said his main concern is safety.
He said the trickiest thing to train the drivers in is steering. “We’ve all forgotten how to ride a tricycle,” he said of the pedicab’s three-wheeled structure.
He said drivers have to get used to how wide the vehicle is and “look ahead don’t look down.”
VanAllen said pedicabs are a green industry and have been popping up all over New England since he started his business in Provincetown. There are now pedicabs in Boston, Newburyport and Providence, Rhode Island, among other cities.
For drivers, who pay a percentage of their take to the company and keep the rest, that means a driver on a six- to eight-hour shift can earn anywhere from zero to upwards of $500.
Just as Provincetown’s nonstop street carnival means there is no typical pedicab ride, there is also no typical pedicab driver.
The 35 to 40 P-town Pedicab drivers, male and female, range in age from teenagers to those in their 50s, including VanAllen, who said he is, at 55, his company’s oldest driver.
“When you get on a bike, age goes away,” he said.
And they are all sizes, from 110 to 240 pounds, he estimated.
The drivers’ professions range from college student to teacher to medical doctor, or as VanAllen put it, “white color, blue color and shirtless.”
Besides locals and summer residents, P-town Pedicab drivers hail from Bulgaria, Masodonia, Lithuania, and Jamaica.
First Female Pedicab Driver In P’town
Michelle Yeaw, 47, of North Truro, a teacher and filmmaker, was P-town Pedicab’s first female driver and when she decided to take the job, she was not sure she was up to the challenge.
“I was scared,” she said.
Now in her 10th year with the company, those fears are long gone.
“It’s changed my life. I love it,” she said.
Knowing she will be riding in the summer keeps her motivated to work out all winter. “It is a huge influence in my life,” she said.
She said it is like a dream job: riding a bike outside all day in what she called, “the most beautiful town in the world.”
She admitted the pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth system takes some customers off-guard but she reassures them. And, after all, it all balances out in the end.
Her best tip? $100. Her worst shift total? $6.
Negotiating Commercial Street can be tricky, but she has had few mishaps. “I ran over someone’s foot once,” she said. Another time, “A very drunk guy fell right in front of me and I almost ran him over.”
While the eight bikes in the P-town Pedicab fleet come in different colors, Yeaw prefers the pink one because, simply, “it’s the cutest one.”
Before taking off with a fare, she offered the following words of wisdom: maneuvering through crowds is an art form and the bike’s bell is a very important piece of equipment.
Pedicabs As ‘Professional Loiterers’
Catherine Graciano, 31, of Orleans is one of P-town Pedicabs newest drivers.
She is a school psychologist during the school year, but being new to Cape Cod and with the dual goals of wanting to meet new people and stay in shape, she decided to spend the summer as a pedicab driver in Provincetown.
“It’s kind of a funny job,” she admitted. “We’re professional loiterers.”
Graciano said the job for her is not so much about making money as having fun.
But she said the previous night she made $250 during an eight-hour shift and averages about $13 to $15 per hour.
The split at P-town Pedicabs is that the driver keeps two-thirds of whatever the passenger pays and the company gets one-third.
In the spirit of the honor system that controls what customers pay, the drivers are also on the honor system to report what they make.
Graciano said the fee most people pay for pedicabs is in keeping with what other things cost in Provincetown. She usually gets $10 to $20 for a ride.
But Graciano and other drivers say they try not to get hung up on what customers pay for rides.
“I try not to worry about it. That defeats the purpose,” Graciano said. “You have to have a Zen approach.”
The toughest part of working for P-town Pedicab may be in explaining to customers that the price is whatever they want.
Graciano said the most common response by customers is, “They say, ‘Are you serious?’”
The upstart who has challenged P-town Pedicabs by starting up his own competing business is Emil Cliggott-Perlt, 21, who graduated in May with a degree in civil engineering from Tufts University.
Cliggott-Perlt said he started coming to Provincetown with his parents 10 years ago and four years ago, they moved to town full-time. He worked for P-town Pedicabs for one month in 2011 and last year decided to start up his own pedicab business.
He ran it with a friend last summer and over the winter bought his friend out and is now running it himself.
He said the business makes “decent” money in advertising, which is placed on the vehicles.
Cliggott-Perlt said he takes a smaller cut from his drivers than the competition. Instead of 33%, he takes 25% of the total fare.
His is a smaller operation with only two pedicabs in his fleet.
He said the best shifts are at night when the pay-what-you-will system can really work in a driver’s favor.
Whereas locals and young families tend to pay about $5 to $10 for a ride, the big spenders on a weekend night can pay two to three times that, he said.
“And that’s okay. They offset each other,” he said.
Cliggott-Perlt said that his entry into Provincetown’s transportation scene has been met mostly with positive vibes. “People are very supportive of entrepreneurs and small businesses.”
In answer to whether there is room for two pedicab businesses in Provincetown, he pointed down Commercial Street where he said there are in close proximity many competing businesses, including two fudge shops, two jewelry shops and two toy shops.
“That two of the same business can’t exist in one town is unrealistic,” he said.
Cliggott-Perlt said he does not expect to be running the business next year; he may pass it on to his brother and sister who live in town or turn it into a worker-owned cooperative.
The job is a good one, he said, listing advantages like being outside, talking to people, and not having a boss looking over your shoulder.
Hard Work Pays Off
On the honor system of drivers reporting their fares, Cliggot-Perlt explained that drivers have an incentive for accurate reporting because the drivers who make the most get the best shifts.
“There is a big difference between a Saturday night and a Thursday day shift,” he said.
But most of all, he said, it is a job where hard work always pays off.
“The harder you work, the more you make,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by George Todorov, 22, from Bulgaria, who is driving a P-town Pedicab in Provincetown for the first time this summer.
“I like it. You meet a lot of new people,” he said.
But the interview was fleeting.
“I have to get back to work to make some money,” he said, as he drove off.
Yeaw said she likes the fact that people with not much money can take a pedicab ride and she also likes it when someone with a lot of money pays her well.
“It’s the karma of the pedicab,” she said.
– Laura M. Reckford