A trio of enterprising young men appeared before Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday with a proposal to reduce summer traffic, raise money for charity and help the environment: bicycle rickshaws to transport people up and down Circuit avenue and other parts of town.
The three men are from Newburyport Pedicab — John Pasquina, 26, Blake Harris, 19, and William Pasquina, 29. Their pedicabs are basically bikes that haul a small sitting area behind them.
In addition to being environmentally-friendly transport — the bikes burn no fuel or give off any exhaust — it is also charitable, as a portion of the proceeds goes directly to fighting cancer.
Mr. Harris founded the company in 2007 with Kevin Murphy, who had mentored him for 10 years through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
About two years ago, Mr. Murphy encouraged Mr. Harris to get a summer job.
At 17 and still a student in high school, Mr. Harris did more than get a summer job, he helped start his own business. He drew inspiration from his mentor, who had been riding in the Pan Mass Challenge for years to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
After riding with his sister on a tandem bike one year, Mr. Murphy joked it might as well have been a rickshaw, as his sister was too busy snapping photos and gabbing to pedal. When Mr. Murphy relayed the story to Mr. Harris, the two conceived the idea for Newburyport Pedicab.
From the start, the concept was simple: the company uses bicycle rickshaws, or pedicabs, to transport people short distances around the downtown area.
Technically speaking, the trips are free, and drivers work only for tips. The charitable end comes from sponsorship, as local businesses pay to advertise on the back of the rickshaws, which are highly visible as they make their rounds around town. In the months to come, company officials will be making the rounds of local businesses in hopes of finding new sponsors.
Mr. Harris said Tuesday the concept has caught on in Newburyport, and the pedicabs are now part of the fabric of that city.
“People are now looking for us. They make it part of their day,” he said.
And although the business has thrived, expanding to about nine pedicabs with 10 to 15 drivers, the primary goal is still to raise money to fight cancer. “We’re not trying to get rich here, we are doing this for charity,” Mr. Harris said.
Selectmen were impressed with the concept, but asked how pedicabs would affect regular taxicabs. John Pasquina said the pedicabs do mostly short trips, usually under one mile, and would not pose a threat to the regular cabs.
“We might actually be doing them a favor,” Mr. Pasquina said. “They usually don’t want to take the shorter fares . . . We focus on the person who just wants to go up the street, but doesn’t want to spend a lot of money.”
Selectmen deferred to police chief Erik Blake, who said overall he supported the idea, but he advised the drivers to keep it low-key and not to solicit customers in an aggressive manner.
The three men said that shouldn’t be a problem. “We tell all of our employees to try and be responsible and respectful,” Mr. Harris said. “We don’t try to hawk our wares.”
Selectmen voted 5-0 to grant a business license to Newburyport Pedicabs.
Renee Balter, a member and former director of the Oak Bluffs Association, said the pedicabs are a perfect fit for the town. “[In Oak Bluffs] we welcome the new and unusual. This is a business that is charitable, good for the environment, good for traffic, a lot of fun . . . I just love it. It gives you renewed hope for the future,” she said.