A New Pedi Cab Service Rolls Into Cleveland

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Daniel Dominic is turning heads in downtown Cleveland. A former bike messenger, he is now using his cycling skills to transport people instead of legal documents. This young entrepreneur runs the first Pedi Cab service here. I couldn’t resist going for a ride, though things are a little tense at first, with a big truck bearing down on us, as Dominic pulls away from the curb.

He starts pedaling a little faster.

Dominic figures most people haven't seen a Pedi Cab before. His three-wheeled vehicle is like most --- kind of like a rickshaw, with a couple of seats under a canopy at the back end… and half of a bicycle grafted onto the front. The vehicle sports a six-speed gear train, seat belts and even turn signals.

SOUND: Truck goes by…Dominic turns down a side street and says: "Let's go down this way"

Dominic didn't get a whole lot of smiles over the past six years as a bike messenger; evidently motorists consider them a menace, with their dodging in and out of traffic; but that experience turned Dominic into something of a human GPS, who knows where he's going, and how to negotiate drivers who aren't happy sharing the street with a vehicle powered by pedaling.

DANIEL DOMINIC [RIDING]: It's not a new idea. I've been to other cities that have thriving Pedi cab industries.

Chicago has them, as does Columbus... Austin...even the Motor City. And, after some web research, Dominic quit his job as a messenger... pieced together some loans from family and friends... and bought his first Pedi cab. His range is mainly the downtown area, with occasional excursions into adjoining neighborhoods. And his business plan? Well, let’s just say that it’s flexible.

What do you charge?
DANIEL DOMINIC: I work for tips.
That's it?
DANIEL DOMINIC: Yes, sir. That's because of how new the industry is in Cleveland, and my own uncertainty as to how to charge prices. So, I figure I'll do the safe thing and let people decide what they want to give me.

The way that he drums up customers seems equally improvisational.

DANIEL DOMINIC: Basically, it's a five second interaction where they're looking at me, I'm looking at them…I ask them where they're going, I tell them I work for tips, and they hop in.

SOUND: Distant Construction AMBI UP & UNDER

Daniel Dominic takes a breather by the downtown mall area, where construction on the new medical mart and convention center is bustling along. He's hoping that the additional city foot traffic resulting from these developments will yield more customers. He also hopes to eventually have a half dozen Pedi cabs in operation.

DANIEL DOMINIC: I feel that this is actually a step up from two wheels, even though it may be physically harder at some times. It's a way more fulfilling job, and I feel it's actually got a future for me.
Why is it more fulfilling?
DANIEL DOMINIC: Well, for one, I'm in charge of a lot more --- and I kind of like that.
Meaning that, as a bike messenger, you're taking someone else's orders?
DANIEL DOMINIC: Yeah. With this, I know the market's there, I know the customer's there, and it's up to me to find them. And that's kind of exciting.

A couple of potential customers approach. Patricia and Tiffany are curious.

PATRICIA: How do you ride this, and where do you go?
DANIEL DOMINIC: Well, I'd ask you where are you going?
Is this something you would do?
PATRICIA: Yes I would.
DANIEL DOMINIC: I'll give you my card. And I'm on FaceBook.

And so it goes --- making the most of that five second transaction --- planting the seed for a future ride, and hopefully, a generous tipper. He's playing it by ear right now, but has plans to standardize his prices. And he's got some money coming in from a couple of local restaurants who have bought advertising space on the side of his vehicle. So, that eases the financial strain on this new venture, but Daniel Dominic says he's always lived close to the edge.

DANIEL DOMINIC: I mean, who doesn't stress out every month about some sort of
money issue? You get used to it.

And with that, Daniel Dominic makes his contribution to regional reinvention....even if it is something that’s been around as long as…well, as long as bicycles. After dropping me off, he looks both ways... rises up... and pushes down on that pedal... which propels him back into traffic and the exhilarating uncertainty of a brand new venture.

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