Yesterday we made the most incredible discovery. It is a discovery that has rocked our worlds and left us questioning everything we previously believed…
We have spent our time in San Francisco walking everywhere. Walking, we decided, is the best mode of transportation in a city where everything is easily acceptable and close together. Walking, we mused, is better than going out of your way to take trains that don’t go directly to your destination. Walking, we felt, let us see the sights and experience the city in a way a taxi never would. Walking, we thought, is far superior to buses. But now we know the truth…
Walking, we have discovered, is for chumps.
If you have read KG’s post The day that we went to the Best Place Ever, did the Best Thing Ever, and listened to the Best Song Ever about our day you will know that we began with a walk from our hostel to AT&T Park…not a short trip. We then proceeded to take part in a walking tour. Next we walked along the water front from Pier 40 to Pier 15 (Fun Fact: the piers go from 40 to 2 with all the even numbers, then back up from 1 to 39 with all the odds…weird, huh?). When combined with the last couple of days it makes a whole lot of walking…but it was by choice! As I said before, we thought walking was the ideal method of travel. That was all about to change.
We had noticed an abundance of cycle-driven rickshaws running passengers along the boardwalk, ferrying them from the Exploratorium to Pier 39 or from Fisherman’s Wharf to the America’s Cup grounds. We hadn’t thought much of it until KG had a ‘lightbulb moment.’ She asked me if I remembered one of my Wonder & Wanderlust posts from Venice. I responded, “How could I forget How to Find a Hot Gondolier? It was both entertaining and informative on a very important subject!” She then drew a comparison between riding in a rickshaws and riding in a gondola that completely warranted its own blog post…but that’s not the revelation… In order to properly compare rickshaws, or pedicabs as they are also called, to gondolas (and more importantly rickshaw cyclists to gondola men) we needed to do some research. That meant taking a ride, which turned out to be the best idea we have ever had!
What have we been doing all this time traveling around on our own feet using our own energy like chumps? We could have been sitting back and relaxing while someone else did all the work! You still get the fresh air of walking. You can still hear all the sounds, smell all the smells and see all the sights…but while sitting down! Plus you get a built in tour guide and sometimes musician!
So it turns out a rickshaw ride has more in common with cruising the canals of Venice than we thought. It is a venture that may seem expensive and possibly unneeded, but in reality is an adventure everyone should have and totally worth the cash. But much like maximizing your gondola ride by finding the ideal gondolier to escort you around, there are helpful tips to assist you in maximizing your rickshaws experience. I’m going to talk about San Francisco specifically, but I’m sure you can apply this to any city.
Tip #1: Be Informed!
Not all rickshaws are created equal.
The San Francisco pedicab scene is strictly controlled. Apparently in places like New York City pedicabs aren’t illegal but also aren’t necessarily legal. The drivers require no licenses or city approval. Therefore there are 650 bikes roaming the city. In comparison, the Port of San Fran has a 40 bike limit at any time. All companies/drivers are required of pay fees and undergo a 7-step licensing procedure. Basically it is not an easy process.
Along Embarcadero you will find drivers representing three different companies. I can guarantee you that they all operate legally. Police monitoring was proved by the shutting down of an unpermitted company a couple of years ago. But just because they are legal doesn’t mean they are awesome. Now that you are convinced you will be taking a rickshaws ride you can go online and do some research on who to ride with.
While I know there are other companies you can look into I am going to whole-heartedly throw my support behind Cabrio Taxi. We rode with them twice..more on that later ;)…and had a blast both times. Both Stan & John were thoroughly entertaining & super informative and our rides went uber smoothly. Seriously the company is soooo awesome! I can’t say enough good things, but maybe if you take what I have said/will say here and combine it with all of the epic 5 Star reviews on Yelp you’ll believe me that these are the guys to choose!
Tip #2: Be Selective!
Like I said before: Not all rickshaws are created equal…neither are the rickshaw drivers.
So you’ve done your research, listened to my advise and picked your company. (If you picked Cabrio Taxi you will identify their pedicabs by the sparkly red cabs!) Now it’s time to pick the rickshaw itself. My number one tip is to not be afraid to be selective. If you find a spot where cabs are lined up waiting but you can’t find one you want, walk on. Another rickshaw will drive by or be parked ahead. They are scattered all about the waterfront.
We made a list of wants when we caught our first ride and although it was short we would not settle for less:
– The pedicab had to be pretty…and sparkly red is very pretty!
– The pedicab driver had to be pretty…How did we do?
If you are young, single girls like us don’t be shy, pick a nice looking guy! We were first propositioned by a creepy-ish, older man with a basic cab…not at all meeting our requirements. We politely said no thanks, all the while staring at the attractive young man with the pretty Cabrio cab behind him. Unfortunately it felt rude to ask him to stop right in front of the other guy. Plus in the end we did more than alright and had a good chat and laugh about the whole thing with the young stallion we’d missed when he pulled up behind us during our ride.
Tip #3: Be Friendly!
They’ll do most of the work so try to reciprocate!
Both John & Stan were impressive conversationalists. Now I will admit that as a socially awkward person I can be impressed by small acts of
socialism social competency but these guys really were masters. Stan fed off our excited energy & laid out the basics of the pedicab business and John expanded on our further questions & offered a mini tour. I’m pretty sure these guys have this job because they enjoy people and will not let an awkward silence occur (despite the fact that you are staring at their backs the whole time and have very limited eye-contact), but I can only imagine that the more you give the more you will receive. For example, we had Stan laughing as much as he had us and in the end he gave us his card with his number to call whenever we needed a ride…and he held true to that!
As a side note, Stanislaw (aka Stan) is also apparently the Creative Director of Cabrio Taxi…cool, eh?
Tip #4: Be Generous!
This tip is more for the benefit of the drivers than the riders.
Both of our drivers were super lax about what we should be paying. While the pedicab itself has a fee guide posted, the drivers don’t take it too seriously. Stan told us $15 for our first ride, which I’m sure was $20 on the guide. And for our second, most epic ride (just wait for the details) John didn’t even tell us how much we owed. Basically it’s a ‘pay what you think the ride is worth’ system (with Cabrio at least). So when you are measuring worth remember a few things:
– The pricing guide should be something at least you pay attention to.
– You got a tour or at least great conversation with your ride.
– You didn’t have to take part in that inferior act of walking.
– You received all the ambiance with none of the work.
– You probably got to feel like you were in a parade…because that’s how I felt!
– That guy just pulled your ass around on a bicycle! Sometimes up hills!
Be generous! This is what these guys do for a living!
Tip #5: Be Location-Savvy!
Remember they will take you there!
Take a look at the map they have posted. They go all of those places! And in the case of Cabrio Taxi (and maybe others) you can also hire them by the hour! So if you need to go somewhere not on that map (or want them for an event like wedding photos or a pubcrawl…both examples from Yelp!) you can book them to do that!
It was the highlight of our day when we realized that the map had both Ghirardelli Square and Union Square on it. As we were planning on ending our day at a coffee shop across from the old Ghirardelli factory and our hostel is just blocks off Union we thought there could be no better plan than taking the pedicab home! So I called up Stan and told him our plan. We’d mentioned this on our ride earlier so it wasn’t a surprise for him, although I’m not sure he’d believed we’d actually follow through with it. Although he was off shift he did everything he could to accommodate us. He recruited one of their top guys, John, and sent him over to us tout suite.
John was a hoot! He took us all the way home, even though it was a long way through hill country. He was even kind enough to take an extra hilly way so that we could have the scenic route! Along the way he gave a running commentary on where we were and what we were seeing. He also told us about his interesting past as a sailor on old-school pirate-ship-style boats and the driver of a horse and buggy. And occasionally he played his back seat drum (I got to play it too!), maracas, harmonica and bell while driving…and it didn’t even feel sketchy! That’s a good driver right there! He was great about the leech we picked up…we’re not really sure if he was helping drag us up the hill or coasting along for the ride…?
Apparently about 15% of a pedicab driver’s business is routes off Embarcadero. We were proud to be one of them. John took us right to our doorstep…literally. We were about a foot from the stairs of our hostel when we jumped out of the cab. Such a gentleman!
The moral of this post? Find a pedicab/pedicab driver you like and hop on for a ride! You won’t regret it!
Love & Luck,
P.S. Don’t forget about my Cabrio Taxi recommendation!