For 50 to 60 hours a week, Wrigleyville resident Christian Blume pedals his pedicab around Clark and Addison Streets, giving locals rides home and tourists trips to the next bar on their agendas.
“It’s a lot of fun being outdoors, meeting different people, working the bar scene and the Cubs games,” said Blume, 25, who has been operating Blume Brothers Pedicabs
with his brother Brendan, 22, for about two years.
And as anyone who lives near Wrigley Field can attest, the brothers Blume aren’t the only ones cycling pedicabs around the neighborhood. With the Cubs midway through their season, the things seem to be everywhere.
Anywhere from 15 to 25 pedicabs are rolling through Wrigleyville at one time, Blume said, depending on whether the Cubs are in town.
There are many reasons the pedicab industry is booming not only in Wrigleyville but throughout the city, said Roger Brownworth, pedicab driver and owner of Roger Rickshaw
, one of the oldest and largest pedicab companies in the city.
Since a pedicab driver in Chicago doesn’t need a business license or insurance to cover rider injuries like pedicabbers in other cities, out-of-town drivers are flocking to the Windy City, he said.
Since Blume’s sponsors are local beer company Louis Glunz Beer and Anheuser-Busch’s Stella Artois, Blume Brothers Pedicabs targets the Wrigleyville bar scene, especially during Cubs games. How much? A typical ride could cost two passengers about $13 before tip to go from Addison Street to Belmont Avenue, for example.
But there still are hurdles threatening the bike-taxi business.
A state law requiring businesses operating passenger-carrying vehicles to offer workman’s compensation insurance to their drivers could soon be enforced in Chicago, according to Brownworth and Blume. The pedicab regulations currently are being hashed out by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection
“There’s basically no enforcement in the city right now, and it’s well-known through the industry throughout the country,” said Brownworth, who like Blume has a business license and insurance even though it’s not required. “But providing workman’s compensation insurance to drivers is a very expensive endeavor that could essentially kill the whole industry if it’s enforced.”
Brendan Kelly, 33, who works at Risque Cafe
at Clark and Roscoe Streets and has ridden the pedicabs through Wrigleyville, said he sees the drivers in his bar all the time, and the pedicabs bring a unique crowd to the area.
“It’s a fascinating business,” he said, “if not a little weird.”
The pedicab drivers aren’t your typical Wrigleyville neighbors, Kelly said, and they’re not your typical cabdrivers either. Tourists are drawn to the sheer uniqueness of it, as well as the drivers, many of whom are heavily tattooed, shirtless and have spirited personalities, he said.
“It’s strange because riding in a [pedicab] isn’t really a luxury,” Kelly said. “But I guess that’s not the point.”
Although the term rickshaw is thrown out to describe the tricycle-pulled chariot cab, during Cubs games there’s only one authentic rickshaw riding around. Or as its driver and creator, Matt Furlin, describes it: “a Chinese-Amish-American version of a Japanese gin rickshaw.”
Wrigleyville resident Furlin, 50, whom Brownworth describes as a legend in the pedicab community, has been taking customers around for more than 26 Cubs seasons–two seasons pulling them on his 38-inch wagon-wheeled rickshaw.
Although there’s a lot of pointing and laughing involved in Furlin’s profession, he said, he gets a great response from riders, with many asking if he could work their wedding ceremonies or their kid’s birthday parties.
“You name it, people have asked it and wanted to do it,” Furlin said.
He also said the industry is a very tightknit community, especially with the current regulation issues.
“The pedicabbers are a unique breed,” he said. “We’re all about cooperation, not competition–we’re brothers in arms.”
What do you think? Are pedicabs a Wrigleyville nuisance or do they give the hood character?