Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
Even with this weekend’s inauguration festivities projecting to draw significantly smaller crowds than in 2009, the influx of tourists, along with road closures and unseasonal weather, has the local pedicab community gearing up for what will likely be its busiest weekend of the year.
The prospects of a crowd of 700,000 to 800,000 people projects to draw approximately 200 pedicabs to the National Mall and downtown areas to work the inaugural events — a nearly 100% increase over 2009, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty declared pedicabs to be the “official vehicle” of the presidential inauguration.
"With the heavy influx of folks coming in, and all kinds of activities going on, it’s a great opportunity for the pedicab business,” says Ron Graham, owner of ShowPeds, LLC, a local pedicab company. “It’s such a rare opportunity to have this type of crowd. I would imagine every pedicabber around will be out working.”
As is typical of large Washington events, finding ways to provide efficient transportation of the large crowds this weekend poses daunting challenges. The closure of several metro stations, along with restricted vehicle access on the streets surrounding the National Mall and downtown, means that residents and visitors alike may experience more than a few transit headaches.
Pedicabs, however, which operate essentially as a large tricycle with a seat in the rear to carry passengers, are well calibrated to provide for the short to mid-range transportation services that will either be hard to find or difficult to manage on inauguration weekend.
"Transportation for visitors after they get off the metro will be the tricky part,” says Alex Lesiak, a veteran pedicab operator who worked the 2008 Inauguration. “South of K Street, pedestrians will have three options for getting around: walk, ride a bike, or take a pedicab.”
Indeed, the three-wheeled machines are uniquely positioned to assist families with children, persons with disabilities, tourists unwilling to navigate the Washington grid, and people who are simply exhausted from a long day of walking.
However, given the negative recent publicity surrounding an incident in which a New York City pedicab operator allegedly charged a family an exorbitant amount for a short ride, the pedicab community in Washington sees this weekend as a chance to boost its local profile and its reputation as an ethical industry.
"It’s all about protecting the industry’s integrity. We don’t just see ourselves as giving Point A to Point B rides, we see ourselves as cultural ambassadors to the city,” says Lesiak. “Good operators will provide the client with a full service experience at a fair price.”
The industry has grown exponentially within the District since first being introduced more than five years ago, with pedicabs becoming increasingly more common around the National Mall, Nationals Stadium, and neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle and U Street. The city now boasts five licensed pedicab companies and more than 100 pedicabs available to operators and riders.