What’s yellow, on wheels, and found carting paying (and non-paying) passengers all over Oak Bluffs? The answer is a new, open-air way to tour the Island’s pastel-painted town or bar hop along Circuit avenue: Vineyard Pedicab.
If a bicycle got together with a taxi, the pair would birth a pedicab. These school-bus-yellow carts fused to 21-gear bikes hit the streets of Oak Bluffs more than six weeks ago. For a pay-at-what-you-will price, a cheery man or woman with killer calf muscles and a bell will cart you to your in-town destination — from the ferry dock to your bed and breakfast, from your harborside parked car to a taco platter at Sharky’s Cantina, or for a whirl around Cottage City. The only rule is to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Strolling along Circuit avenue, I keep my eyes peeled for a yellow cart-on-wheels. Before long, I spy a vacant pedicab parked outside the public restroom on Kennebec avenue (I later learn that a pedicab is nearly always parked beside the information booth at the foot of Circuit avenue). After three minutes of patient waiting and peering into the women’s — and men’s — bathroom stalls for a girl or guy who looks like they can handle a honking 175-pound bike-cart, Vinnie Padalino appears from the General Store with a freshly-filled coffee mug. I tell him I’d like a ride. “Hop in,” he says.
As I climb aboard and seat myself in the cart for my first-ever Vineyard Pedicab ride, the sun-warmed leather seat stings the hind-side of my thighs. When settled, I look into 35-year-old Mr. Padalino’s face for the last time of the excursion and instruct him to take me on his most popular route.
Mr. Padalino straps his feet to the pedals and steers the carriage toward Ocean Park. Through the refreshing sea breeze, we cruise along the gravel divide that separates the Atlantic from the quaint Victorian mansions. When we approach people, friends or strangers to Mr. Padalino, my driver tinks the bell and calls out a cool “Hello.” Between greetings and bell-rings, Mr. Padalino educates me on the history of Oak Bluffs and many of the mansions punctuating the skyline. The largest corner home, he tells me, belongs to Peter Norton, developer of Norton Antivirus software. A fire blazed the mansion to the ground in 2001, he says, adding with a chuckle, “They should have installed a firewall.”
Staffed with 16 peddlers, Vineyard Pedicab is a not-for-profit company. The volunteer drivers keep 70 per cent of each tip as a wage. The remaining money gets funneled toward maintenance of the four pedicabs and in support of the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike-a-thon across Massachusetts that raises money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. All profits incurred from advertising deals with Island businesses are also pooled to this joint cause.
There’s a green side to the yellow Pedicabs, too. Aside from the non-existent carbon footprint of the pedal-powered carts, all of the company’s advertisers adhere to environmentally friendly standards or support eco-healthy practices.
The founders of the business settled on a pay-as-you-please policy for Vineyard Pedicab in part because they simply liked the notion. The goal of the company is to provide an earth-friendly transportation substitute to buses, taxis and cars, and to raise money for cancer treatment and research. The do-good quality of the company often encourages customers to pay a good price. Twenty dollars is considered a top-notch exchange for a 15-minute cruise; five dollar tips, Mr. Padalino says, are more common.
First and foremost, co-owner John Pasquina, 26, later tells me, Vineyard Pedicab is a public service. “There are kids who wouldn’t be able to pay a going rate,” he explains. “We’re just fine to give them a ride for $1 or $2 — or nothing at all. It evens out with other customers who pay more.”
Pedicab driver Jed Reisser has experienced the buck-tip stiff. “On non-busy days [local] kids who know how we work just jump in for a ride home and give you a dollar,” he says.
Giving free rides — and they are infrequent — has been the only hurdle to business so far. “We don’t mind [giving a free] ride or two, but after that, it’s just like, this is our bread and butter!” Mr. Pasquina explains.
Pedaling from Ocean Drive to Narraganset avenue, Mr. Padalino tells me he has been stiffed once, but, adds, “most people get it.”
Dollars aren’t the only currency traded to the bikers in exchange for a lift. The pedal-power of 28-year-old co-owner Will Pasquina (John’s brother) once earned him a handful of blackberries and a broken bracelet. “It’s because he wears these strange hats, so it encourages people to treat him strangely,” John jests.
Continuing onto the more bustling and sunlit Circuit avenue, Mr. Padalino shares with me his own list of odd tips. He tells me his peddling once earned him an apple fritter and a bottle of milk. And after a long, late-night ride to their home in East Chop, a couple donated $25 and a can of Bud Light to Mr. Padalino’s collection bucket.
Pulling off the right shoulder of the street to allow a taxi and two cars to pass, Mr. Padalino explains another Vineyard Pedicab staple: a kind-and-courteous driving style. “We don’t really want to [annoy anyone] because we’re just starting off,” he says, adding, “The only negative response we got was right away with the cab drivers who didn’t want us parking in their spots, but I think they pretty much realized that we’re a different beast than them. It’s not really competition. We’re not taking their fares. In fact, we are helping them out, in a way, because we take their smaller fares that they aren’t going to make much money off of anyway.”
Equipped with safety features like headlights, blinker lights and a seatbelt, Pedicabs are treated as cars on Vineyard roads. “On a major street we’ll go typically with the flow of traffic, pulling over to the right every now and then to let drivers pass,” Mr. Padalino says. “Typically the passengers aren’t in any rush to go from point A to point B. They are more on a tour.”
What do the peddlers do when it rains? “Get wet,” Mr. Padalino says. A black “Vineyard Pedicab”-embroidered canopy raises from behind the cart to keep raindrops from soaking passengers. During a downpour, however, the drivers temporarily seek shelter. Few business opportunities are missed during storms because few customers are on the streets. John succinctly explains the general rule: “If there are people out, we are out.”
“We’re always encouraging our drivers to pray for sunny weather,” he adds. “And on days with lots of tourists, the sky is the limit.”
A famous hidden gem of Oak Bluffs, and one of the most popular Pedicab destinations, follows along the narrow passages of the gingerbread house-lined campground known as Cottage City. Mr. Padalino momentarily backpedals with his sun-bronzed legs before maneuvering the pedicab toward this last leg of our route.
“A lot of tours come [to Oak Bluffs] and they never find their way off Circuit avenue,” John later tells me. “We kind of pull them into the periphery and take them off the beaten path.”
As we meander through the Camp Ground, I learn that Mr. Padalino is a Pedicab driver with many tricks. When he’s not zooming passengers around town, he’s selecting the playlist on a free-form WVVY radio show, baking pizzas at Offshore Ale Co., laying stone as a mason or scraping the washboard with Island band Ballywho. And as a pedicab driver, too, he’s donned hats other than that of the tour guide-transporter. Two parents, frustrated with the naughty behavior of their children during dinner at Coop de Ville, slid Mr. Padalino a $10 bill to babysit their young son and two daughters. Once buckled in the cart (equipped to hold 600-pounds of passengers and goods), the kids were treated to a guided ride along the boat-filled harbor and into town to see the Flying Horses Carousel.
When my ride is finished, I hand Mr. Padalino a $10 bill. He will get to keep $7 of this tip; the other $3 will fund bicycle maintenance and support the Pan-Mass Challenge.
John later tells me that $10 is a very satisfactory tip. And after spending a quarter of an hour aboard a personalized Vineyard Pedicab tour-ride, many passengers, he says, slap their driver a double-digit tip in tune with mine.
Regardless of any monetary incentive, the Pasquina brothers say that their incentive for bringing pedicabs to the Vineyard stems from a commitment to public service, green energy and charity fundraising. Mostly, pedicabbing passengers on a quirky cart through Oak Bluffs is a pleasurable way for drivers to boost their income. Like a proud parent, John bubbles about his infant business venture: “It’s just the most jolly vehicle I’ve ever seen!”