New Pedicab Company Launched by Former and Current SMU Students

September 27, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Kate Gardner
kateg@smu.edu

From Left: Charlie Manning, 22, Robert Tobolowsky, 23, Gordon Kellerman, 23, and Jefferson Parker, 22, show off their brand new wheels. (Photo by Kate Gardner)


Uptown is going to see some new wheels on the road this month. They won’t belong to the latest luxury car model. They’ll belong to an entirely new mode of transportation for the area: pedicabs.

For those who are unfamiliar, a pedicab is essentially a bicycle-drawn cab that seats two people comfortably—three if you’re willing to squeeze in a bit. And if you think you’re seeing some familiar faces behind the wheel, it’s probably because you are.

SMU alumni Robert Tobolowsky, Charlie Manning and Gordon Kellerman, along with current SMU senior Jefferson Parker, are launching Dallas Pedicabs, the first company of its kind in the Dallas market.

The project, which was delayed this summer due to heat, has already generated a considerable amount of buzz. The company plans to officially start operating Friday, Sept. 30 with a launch party beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Katy Trail Ice House

“We’ve got like 200 plus people who like us on Facebook, and we haven’t even hit the streets yet,” said Tobolowsky, 23.

While their primary focus will be on the Uptown area, the men are looking to grow their business outside of that market with opportunities like the State Fair of Texas, which starts on Sept. 30. They will be the exclusive pedicab service inside the fair grounds this year.

The fair is “something that the whole team kind of went together and formulated a business plan to get ourselves into and it ended up working out,” said Tobolowsky.

Texas State Fair President Errol McCoy is excited to see how customers will react to the pedicabs.

“We like [the pedicab] because it’s such a unique transportation medium,” said
McCoy. “I think our customers will find it interesting and intriguing.”

Dallas Pedicabs will provide general transportation and historical tours around the fair, as well as give customers the option to rent their own private pedicab for the day.

McCoy said that having the pedicabs allows the fair to promote its historical aspect, including the distinct art deco structures.

“It’s going to be neat,” he said.

Customers can pay to ride the pedicabs using fair coupons.

Outside of the fair, the company also plans to make payment easy for customers by using a tip-based system rather than by charging a standard fare.

“We’re going to have a sign on the pedicab to educate the customer on what he would have paid had he taken a taxi and also what we think is a realistic price for the distance or the time,” said Tobolowsky.

Customers also have the option of paying with a credit card through the company’s mobile credit card processing systems, Square and Intuit.

“That’s just one way,” said Tobolowsky, referencing Square. “Obviously you can pay cash. Or you could probably just give us a kiss on the cheek and we’d let you go,” he added jokingly.

Other opportunities the company would like to pursue include SMU game days, functions at the American Airlines Center, weddings, and light display tours during the holiday season. Down the line, it would like to branch into areas like the Grassy Knoll near the Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas.

“We have actually talked with the City of Dallas about their ambition to kind of have a service like that so I think they want us to do that just as bad as we do,” said Tobolowsky.

The men, who are also roommates, considered starting a business together after Tobolowsky conceived of the idea during a trip to Austin in March.

“We all thought it was a great idea and started to seriously brainstorm how this idea could become a reality,” said Kellerman, 23. “As we did more research and began thinking of routes the idea really took off.”

In May, Tobolowsky and Manning pitched their idea to the Dallas City Council and obtained the necessary permits to operate in various parts of Dallas, including the Uptown area.

“We kind of leveraged a lot of our connections in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex and we put together all of our ideas, formulated a business plan, and just essentially attacked,” said Tobolowsky.

The four young entrepreneurs have already hired two SMU affiliated drivers and have another two potential drivers completing the permit process. They do, however, fully intend to drive the pedicabs themselves.

“We’re definitely going to drive [the pedicabs] because it’s an easy way to get a little money, and besides that we obviously have to know what we’re dealing with being the principals of the company,” said Tobolowsky.

With five pedicabs ready to debut, the team plans to differentiate themselves from traditional taxicab services by providing a unique customer experience.

“We thought it was really important to have like fun, outgoing [drivers] that make it more than just some ride. Like they will ask you a random trivia [question] and say it’s for a free ride if you get it right,” said Manning, 22.

While the group wants the pedicabs to have a uniform feel, they also plan to add speakers to stream music through and other various touches to see how customers react.

“I want to do a karaoke pedicab. I think that would be hilarious,” said Parker, 22.

“People just riding down the street—imagine three girls sitting in the back just screaming their lungs out.”

Targeting the Uptown area for its pedestrian friendly energy, the guys feel like they can fill a void that taxicab companies do not.

“A lot of cab drivers don’t want to give you a ride if it’s really short because they don’t make any money off it,” said Manning. “So one of the advantages is that we have the ability to cater to those people that are going short distances.”

Uptown resident Jeff Masters agrees. If pedicabs were available in Uptown, he would ride them all the time.

“Cabs can get expensive and the trolley usually won’t take me where I want to go, not to mention it stops running at midnight,” said Masters.

Dallas Pedicabs plans to solve problems like that by sending out drivers five or six days of the week in two shifts: one from 5-9 p.m. and another from roughly 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The men have also reached out to several Uptown area restaurants and bars, offering to display their ads on the pedicabs in an effort to generate more interest in the company.

“Many of these restaurants and bars are excited about the idea of pedicabs and the aspect of mobile advertisements,” said Kellerman.

The group will also heavily rely on social media for advertisement purposes as well as to perpetuate the “green” aspect of their company.

“Whether it be through Twitter or Facebook, we hope to update our followers about current events or nightly specials, said Kellerman. “By using these social mediums we will eliminate the need for paper advertisements that usually end up ignored and trashed.”

Dallas native Bo Killen agrees. Killen works at a local bike shop in Austin, where pedicabs are popular. He thinks that Dallas Pedicabs will feel right at home in the Dallas market.

“Austin is super saturated with pedicabbing services right now. I think at any given point there’s four or five different companies operating simultaneously,” Killen said. “So it’s very competitive.”

He believes that since Austin is more pedestrian friendly than Dallas, the company shouldn’t have much trouble establishing itself here.

“The fact that [Dallas Pedicabs] is going to be associated with the state fair is awesome,” Killen said. “That’s like a guaranteed good season.”

SMU professor Dr. Elizabeth Wheaton, who formerly taught Tobolowsky, is confident that the team is off to the right start.

“Mr. Tobolowsky is very determined at whatever he works at,” said Wheaton. It’s something so different it could very much be a niche market.”

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