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Step on it: Pedicab drivers try to pick up fares

Step on it: Pedicab drivers try to pick up fares

Derek Zugic, a newcomer to Chicago's pedicab scene, uses his quick wit to entertain riders and earn fares. (Kelly McCabe Grove photo for RedEye)

Sometimes, to pedal is to mettle in sidewalk conversations, especially when you’re a pedicab driver trying to drum up business. Drivers often line up outside big events — such as Cubs games here in Wrigleyville — hoping to attract riders who want to feel the sun on their shoulders and a breeze in their hair. Pedicab company triAcycle says its bikes appear at 30 different events around the city each month. 

But while passengers kick back and enjoy the ride to the bar or the Brown Line, drivers are furiously pedaling and building their leg muscles in the hopes of snagging a nice tip. And even for a professional boxer like Derek Zugic, it can be hard on the body.

“There’s a lot of pressure, pulling up to 500 pounds of people and just driving, riding your bicycle back and forth,” said Zugic, a newcomer to this season’s pedicab scene, during a recent Cubs home game. “But for me, being a professional boxer and training for the last decade of my life, it’s good exercise. And you get paid for it.”

Besides the physical toll, the competition to get a fare is hot, with drivers doing everything from toting around stereos blasting tunes to offering umbrellas and free rides, which is one of Zugic’s favorite moves.

“[Offering a free ride] is one of my pickup lines,” he says. “The first and main part is to get them on the cab, and then I just let them know that I do work off of tips.”

Pedicab drivers typically pay a daily rate to rent the cabs. Zugic pays $40 to triAcycle, which he tries to make back before the game so everything after that is profit. Offering free rides while still trying to come out in the black can be risky, but most drivers possess people skills that serve them well.

“I’m a people person,” Zugic said. “I like talking to people. You meet a lot of people that aren’t from Chicago, [and] I get a lot of people [who] it’s their first time on the pedicab.”

And with tips, it can be hit or miss.

“The worst part is when you ride someone that’s really, really big and then they give you a $2 tip,” Zugic said. “So far I haven’t gotten stiffed, but $2 tips really don’t cut it. But, hey, what are you gonna do? You offer a free ride and then work off of tips, so $2 is better than no dollars.

“I’ve heard people making up to $500, $600 on certain days, [like] after like a Bon Jovi concert.”

On Saturday, Zugic lucked out during the game and called out to RedEye to say he got a $10 tip that put him in the black before the game was over. Score.

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