Pedicabs Popping Up On Orlando's International Drive
fic was stopped dead one recent morning on International Drive when James Babineaux, in town for the home builders' show, looked out from the window of his taxi and noticed a pedicab filled with fellow convention-goers speeding along the sidewalk.
"Wow, they're really making more progress than we are," Babineaux said he thought at the time.
Out in force for the first time this year, Why Walk Pedicab Co. is making a run at giving show attendees an alternative to taxis as the tourist strip's winter convention season moves into full swing.
Why Walk's strategy is just the latest example of the fierce competition along I-Drive, where shops, hotels and restaurants have long fought each other for the cash that floods the area this time of year. In the next week alone, 65,000 people are expected to attend two major shows and pump more than $80 million into the economy -- a spike that follows the estimated $120 million generated from the recent builders' show.
But what matters on I-Drive, where hordes of rental cars, buses, shuttles and taxis sometimes choke the corridor in front of the Orange County Convention Center, is speed.
And speed equals money.
"It only makes sense when everybody else is tied up in traffic, we're moving on the sidewalk," Why Walk owner Gina Garcia said.
Garcia ran 15 pedicabs during the International Builders' Show and plans to run them again for the Super Show and PGA Merchandise Show & Convention that begin next week.
Taxi drivers say the bicycle-pulled pedicabs take some short-run business away with some of the strongest pedicab pedalers ferrying people as far as 3.3 miles from the convention center to Universal Orlando's CityWalk.
"They take a bit" of a taxi's potential fares, said Jojo Joli, 52, a driver for All City Yellow Cabs.
For pedicab driver Kenee Crawford, 27, the leg workout is worth the money.
Pedicab drivers work for tips compared to the metered fares charged by taxi drivers.
On a single day during the recent builders' show, which brought more than 100,000 people into town, Crawford made nearly $500.
"It was great; it was like any direction you went there was somebody going somewhere," he said.
Once allowed to pick up convention-goers at the convention center doors and even ferry them across the center's pedestrian bridges that cross I-Drive, the pedicabs are now limited to sidewalks because of safety concerns.
Garcia said her drivers have lost some money because they can no longer provide door-to-door service.
"There's been a little bit of consternation regarding those pedicabs," said Convention Center Executive Director Tom Ackert, explaining that the county's risk management department asked them not to carry people on the center's property.
But, Ackert said, "They're very well received by the attendees. . . . These types of alternatives are just great."
Mears Transportation Group President Paul Mears III said his company, which operates more than 550 taxis, isn't ruffled by the pedicab business.
"I wouldn't say that we view it as a threat," Mears said. "In fact, if it's filling a niche that needs to be filled I applaud their efforts."
Also trying to capitalize on convention visitors looking to give their feet a rest is Tally Helman, who has set up a little-known Segway dealership in the nearly 1.2 million-square-foot convention center's west building.
During the builders' show, Helman rented out 18 Segways, upright electric-powered people movers, to convention center staff and show organizers.
"It gets you from point A to point B in a very efficient way," said Helman, whose father, Maitland architect Alan Helman, helped design the convention center. "They can ride to hotels, ride to the Peabody or the Rosen Center right into the elevator and right into their room."
For visitors like Babineaux, who attended the home builders' show this year and last year, the alternatives are welcome in a town where he has learned that what should be a short drive from the convention center to his hotel can take an hour and a half.
Babineaux, marketing director for a Houston-based distributor of quartz countertops, said he noticed long lines to get a taxi and then long waits in traffic both years.
The show, by far the region's largest, is scheduled to return to Orlando through 2008.
"The traffic movement," he said. "I haven't seen much improvement on that."
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