Pedicabs pedal through winter weather

By Emily Fasold

Even in the dead of winter, when ice coats the pavement and roaring winds rip through the city, rickshaw driver Shane Schubbe can still be found maneuvering his bike and buggy through the streets of Chicago.

Schubbe, a 25-year-old Columbia alumnus, is one of a handful of Chicago pedicab drivers who work this typically seasonal job year-round, allowing the rickshaw business to flourish in winter months.

This time of year, he mainly circulates at Blackhawks games at the United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., offering sports fans rides to and from the parking lot.

“Surprisingly, I make pretty good money working winter sporting events,” Schubbe said. “In December, I earned $450 in a little under four hours.”

Schubbe, who rents his rickshaw from Blume Brothers Pedicab Company for $120 per month, said the flexible nature of the business and his love of exercise attracted him to the job in December 2011.

“A lot of pedicab riders find other employment during the winter, but I don’t think it’s that bad,” he said. “It’s just another excuse for me to ride my bike.”

Although this year has been mild compared to the 2011 “Snowpocalypse,” the freezing rain and cold nights have been enough to keep most rickshaw drivers off the streets, according to Robert Tipton, owner of Chicago Rickshaw, a company that stores, maintains and rents out the bikes to drivers.

“This winter has been like any other,” Tipton said. “We have a handful of drivers who still rent from us, but a lot of people have dropped out because the cold and wind make driving difficult. For most, it’s a seasonal business.”

Mark Kennedy, 28, another self-proclaimed veteran of winter biking, said he has a love-hate relationship with pedicabbing during the off season.

“You definitely get a lot of people who look at you like you’re nuts,” he said. “It’s exquisitely unpleasant because even though it’s a fun job, the wind can be straight-up painful.”

Kennedy survives his shifts by wearing a “suit of layers.” On a typical shift, he will wear two pairs of long underwear under a pair of pants and several T-shirts and sweaters. He said that keeping his feet warm by wearing good boots and two pairs of socks is essential for riding in cold weather.

Unlike cities such as Portland, Ore., or Austin, Texas, Chicago does not currently have any laws that require rickshaw drivers to have business licenses or liability insurance.

Last summer, Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward) proposed a measure that would have required rickshaw companies

to be licensed by the city, and each bike to display a $25 city sticker. The plan would have also banned drivers from working downtown before 7 p.m. and restricted them to certain routes. Displaying advertisements on bikes, a large source of income for rickshaw companies, would have also been prohibited under the proposed plan,  the Chicago Tribune reported last June.

The ordinance was overturned by the City Council after Chicago Rickshaw and other companies lobbied against it, Tipton said.

“I definitely think that the business needs some rules and regulations, but [restricting drivers to certain areas] would have destroyed our business,” he said. “I hope that these bikes will be licensed and regulated in the right way in the future.”