Rickshaws, bike taxis, pedicabs — call them what you will, but these three-wheeled chariots are without a doubt a Charleston trademark. If you’ve spent any amount of time downtown, you’ve witnessed the tricycle taxis barreling down King Street or setting up shop on street corners in the Market, waiting for their next fare. The unique, human-powered form of transportation operates much like a traditional taxicab, with passengers (usually no more than three per bike) getting shuttled around town and being charged varying prices depending on the distance of their journey. And, much like their four-wheeled, petroleum-powered counterparts, rickshaws require one crucial element: a skilled driver.
Well, how exactly does one become a pedicab pilot? To many, the answer to this question is a mystery. According to Nick Herron, owner of Charleston Bike Taxi, it’s not too difficult to get a job with his company. However, he does admit that it is an in-demand job and that most people on his team have gotten there because they know somebody. “About 99 percent of our hiring comes from within,” Herron goes on, “and never in eight years have I had to put a help wanted ad out.” He explains that he receives anywhere from 10-15 e-mails each month from applicants hoping to hop on the bike, but it is a rare occasion that any of them make the cut. “When it’s busy, we have to work together, so we keep a pretty tight-knit group of guys,” Herron says.
Eric Toepperwein, a veteran rider for Charleston Bike Taxi, echoes a similar assessment. “In a city with a limited job market, the hospitality industry rules supreme, and at the top of the food chain is the rickshaw rider,” he declares. “It is a highly sought-after job, so much so that it’s difficult to get even my friends in with the company.”
So, step one in becoming a pedicab prospect is to make new friends. When, or if, you are accepted into the fraternal order of pedalers, there are still a few more steps before you can begin riding. All candidates must complete a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division background check, and anyone with a criminal record is scrapped. If you’re clean, then your next move is to apply for a chauffeur’s license. You can pick up an application at the City of Charleston Police Department Records Division, located at 180 Lockwood Blvd. The application itself has a rather trying list of requirements to go along with it, as well as a $20 fee. Once you’ve overcome that hurdle, the final obstacle before you can pedal around town is to take your approved chauffeur’s license to the Charleston Small Business Development Center at 171 Moultrie St. and acquire a small business license.
All of the paperwork and licensing, according to Herron, will run applicants about $100. The process may sound like a headache to some, but once it is completed, the only thing you have left to work on is your stamina. Towing tourists around town in your bike taxi is even harder than it looks.
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