Stockton Record - Stockton,CA,USA

Unusual transport pedals you there

Jeff Hood
Lodi Bureau Chief
Published Saturday, Sep 16, 2006

LODI - Francisco Silvia has spent the past few weeks tuning up the engine that will drive Lodi's newest form of public transportation - his legs.

He's the human power behind his parents' new pedicab business, which on Thursday began offering passengers rides to and from the Lodi Grape Festival in a carriage pulled by a bicycle.

"My legs at first felt like rubber bands," Silvia said of his training to increase his leg strength. "I've been getting used to the feeling of pulling" passengers.

Pedicabs, also called cycle rickshaws, are a common form of transportation in developing Asian nations. In the United States, however, they're usually found where tourists congregate or in busy entertainment districts as an alternative to walking on unfamiliar ground or taking a taxi.

Silvia first saw pedicabs pulling passengers in San Luis Obispo a few years back and thought the business would work in Lodi. He told his parents, Dennis and Ermelinda Silvia, who agreed after seeing pedicab riders in Santa Cruz.

"We further investigated what they did and thought, 'Well, if that's what our son's talking about, this is a great idea,' " Ermelinda Silvia said. "We decided to take a risk and see what comes out of it."

When the Silvias were ready to start their business, they bought two pedicabs through eBay that turned out to be worthless. Instead, they bought a used one from a Santa Cruz operator for $2,500 and took it to a Lodi bicycle shop for an overhaul.

Passengers have the benefit of two spring shock absorbers in the pedicab to minimize bumps.

"You're better off getting one that's proven to work," Ermelinda Silvia said.

Lodi's City Council recently adopted an ordinance that regulates pedicabs in the city. It requires pedicab businesses to obtain a business license and permit. The operator may not have a criminal history, and the pedicab must have seat belts, a headlight, taillights and turn signals.

Janice Magdich, Lodi's deputy city attorney, said Lodi adopted the ordinance because it's transportation for hire on a public street, plus it gives riders assurance the pedicab operator meets a minimum standard.

"They know they're riding in a safe vehicle that's been inspected by the Police Department," Magdich said, "and that the drivers of the pedicabs have had a background check run."

Magdich said those thoughts didn't dawn on her when she took a pedicab ride in San Diego while attending a conference nearly three years ago.

"One assumes when you get in the pedicab that it's mechanically safe and the driver is not a convicted felon," she said. "If pedicabs are operating in Lodi, I think the public would assume some level of regulation."

Although the city ordinance doesn't take effect until Oct. 6, Magdich gave the Silvias the go-ahead to give the pedicab a test run during the four-day Grape Festival, in which Francisco Silvia and his brother, Joshua, 21, will work only for tips.

After the ordinance goes into effect, the Silvia brothers will wear badges that indicate they're licensed operators and the pedicab - big enough for as many as three thin passengers - will bear a decal listing fares. Their experience at the Grape Festival will give them an indication of what fares to charge, Francisco Silvia said.

Lodi's Sarah Callahan, walking to the Grape Festival on Friday afternoon, said she'd pay a few dollars for a pedicab ride.

"If I'm tired, I'd like to be pedaled," she said. "I've seen them in Sacramento, and every time I've seen them, they're packed. I've always wanted" to ride.

Her companion, Dan Bishop of Lake Camanche, said he's not too interested in a pedaled ride.

"Probably some elderly people would ride," he said. "I don't think they can make any money doing it."

The Silvias plan to offer pedicab rides anywhere in the city but will focus mainly on downtown and Hutchins Street Square from Thursdays through Sundays.

"The thing I'll like most of all is being able to talk to people and have some fun with it," Francisco Silvia said. "It's going to be great."