Next time you visit Southern California, don't be surprised if a fit-looking college student pulling a rickshaw cheerfully asks, "Want a ride?"
"People do look at us funny sometimes, but they still go for the ride," says Peter McCormack, the 30-year-old owner of rickshaw enterprise Green Limousine Inc. in San Diego. Singer Sarah McLachlan has been among the customers willing to give it a go.
Green Limousine deploys a fleet of two dozen rickshaws and 100 drivers at such Southern California destinations as zoos, parks and museums. Most rickshaws are powered by college students looking for extra cash and exercise.
The biggest challenge drivers face isn't sore muscles but the guilt of would-be passengers. The idea of sitting in a cart pulled by another human being makes some of his customers uncomfortable. "People think it's really hard to pull a rickshaw, but the secret is in the balance," McCormack explains. "[If you do it right,] all the weight is on the wheels and the cart just rolls along."
McCormack should know: He pulled rickshaws as a college student in Canada and, in 1992, started his own company in Winnipeg with $3,500 in start-up capital. In 1996, he headed south, choosing San Diego for its dry, sunny climate and steady influx of tourists.
A seemingly risky pricing strategy has paid off for Green Limousine, which earned $140,000 in revenues in 1998. The pullers lease individual rickshaws from McCormack. Tourists aren't charged; instead, they simply ask passengers to tip in an amount that reflects what they feel the ride is worth. (Tips average $5 per person.)
Eventually, McCormack plans to expand to tourist areas nationwide. "We want to build relationships with theme parks like Disney," he says. Mickey Mouse on a rickshaw? Could happen sooner than you think.