KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A new cab service started Friday night in Kansas City, but these taxis have three wheels.
As thousands started congregating in the Crossroads District for First Friday, cyclists limbered up for what they hoped would be a night of ferrying people around in so-called pedicabs.
It's a second stab at bringing bicycle rickshaws to Kansas City since City Hall wrote rules two years ago that allowed this novel way of getting around town. Many other cities have them.
"I think it adds a lot to the urbanity of your downtown," said Bill Dietrich, president of the Downtown Council. "It really helps connect destinations in a fun way. It makes your streets more walkable, more livable."
The latest incarnation of pedicabs, known as Tricycle Transit, will start with four carts deployed in the Crossroads and one in Westport. Each cart seats three. The fare is $2 a block, no matter how many passengers are in the cab.
Most rides probably will last five to 10 blocks, but they could go longer if the passengers want to.
Operators hope to ride seven days a week and, eventually, expand to Zona Rosa in the Northland and possibly the Truman Sports Complex.
"We hope these pedicabs will be kind of an ambassador for the city," said Jay Matlack, one of the owners of Tricycle Transit. "We think it will be good for the city."
With cooler temperatures setting in and chances for snow increasing, Matlack acknowledged there might be a better time for starting a service that exposes riders to the weather.
"It definitely is our off season," Matlack said. "We still think we'll have business in the winter, but when it comes to spring, we want to have our operations fine-tuned."
In other cities
Matlack turned to pedicabs after leaving the investment banking business in Denver and returning home to Kansas City, where he now works part-time promoting youth sports.
Matlack drove pedicabs part-time in Denver. He wondered why there weren't any in Kansas City, especially with the emergence of the Crossroads District, the Power & Light District and the Sprint Center.
Pedicabs are operating in dozens of cities across the country, including New York, Denver, Minneapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, Austin, and Arlington, Texas. Some industry experts say at least 100 cities have pedicabs.
Among those is neighboring Lawrence, where the city earlier this year enacted new rules allowing pedicabs. By April, Shane Powers was shuttling riders in downtown Lawrence.
Powers charges $1 per rider per block. He generally rides Friday and Saturday night and hires someone to ride on Thursdays. So far, business has been mixed, he said.
On some weekend nights, Powers carries 40 people, some traveling only a couple blocks and others traveling a couple of miles.
"I have had some really great nights. I have had some really bad nights," he said.
Overall, the reaction has been positive, he said. "Most people love it,"
But pedicabs haven't been without problems around the country. Consider these instances in the news:
* San Diego cracked down on pedicabs last year after an Illinois tourist fell out of a pedicab, struck her head and died. The pedicab was driven by a 23-year-old man from Turkey who was here on a short-term visa, according to published reports. Police said the cab didn't have seat belts.
The city capped the number of pedicabs in high traffic areas and is moving to require pedicab operators to have valid driver's licenses.
* New York City moved ahead with new regulations after a pedicab collided with a taxi last year, injuring the pedicab driver and two passengers.
* The Pepsi Center and Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver set up new rules for pedicabs after getting complaints about bikes speeding across parking lots, zooming through crowds and aggressively pursuing customers.
* Pedicabs were banned from the Las Vegas strip in 2004 because they created safety issues.
Kansas City and Lawrence already have imposed their own pedicab regulations.
Both cities require cyclists to have driver's licenses and insurance. The pedicabs also must have seat belts. And the operators are required to follow traffic laws. Both cities require the drivers to post their fares as well.
Gary Majors, manager of Kansas City's Regulated Industries Division, said the city surveyed other pedicab regulations from around the country and picked the best elements.
"We don't have any concerns with them at all," Majors said.
Steve Meyer is the president of Main Street Pedicab, a manufacturer of pedicabs based in the Denver suburbs. He said the pedicabs are safe if they're well regulated by cities.
"Just like they do with any other mode of transportation, they have to set some rules," said Meyer, adding it can be just as dangerous as being a pedestrian.
Some cities say the pedicabs have had a clear benefit for their downtowns, very similar to what Dietrich said he would like to see for Kansas City.
They fit in well in downtown Denver, where 110,000 people live and work in a 120-block area that includes two sports stadiums and an arena, said Sarah Neumann, spokeswoman for the Downtown Denver Partnership.
"The pedicabs complement our ability to move people between places," Neumann said.
Powers said it will take a while for the area to see pedicabs on par with a bus or car and not just a tourist novelty.
"In a lot of places... they don't look at pedicabs as something cute," he said. "It's a legitimate form of transportation."