Honk! Winter perils pedicab venture in Cape Town?

Will winter swamp new pedicab venture in Cape Town?

- Cape Town, South Africa. 8 June 2009

Winter arrived in Cape Town this week – and with it, the rain (50mm of it this afternoon alone). But unlike in most international cities, umbrellas do not spring up like mushrooms the moment the raindrops appear. Capetonians hunch their shoulders and scurry from one building shelter to the next, because here, the rain does not fall from above. It attacks from the side, from below, from all directions it seems – and only a newcomer would think an umbrella could mitigate against the galeforce-powered storms.

But this season, central Cape Town’s streets have been brightened by 10 newcomers: blue and yellow 18-speed pedicabs imported Colombia. They are equipped with hydraulic brakes, brake lights, indicators, hooters and seatbelts – even sunshields and flimsy rain covers. But that’s for the passengers…

Thus Bertie Phillips, project founder and CEO of Cyclecabs Cape Town, found himself spending the weekend in outdoor gear stores, shopping for rain ponchos – and hoping that the winter wind and rain will not dampen the spirits of the new cyclecab riders. Cape Town has neither an umbrella nor a commuter-cycling culture, so the bright yellow cycle-specific ponchos beloved by Europeans cannot be found here.

Pedicabs have long been a feature on the streets of cities from London to Bogota, but they have been slow to gain momentum locally – licensing and liability issues as well as that lack of cycling culture are the main stumblng blocks.

Transport planner Phillips has been planning the venture for some time, though. ‘I wanted to launch Cyclecabs for Velo Mondial 2006 [an international NMT conference hosted in Cape Town], but there was not enough time. I had the plan in the back of my mind and decided that with Fifa World Cup 2010, the timing was just right.’

The Cyclecabs took to the streets in late April, and have provided formerly unemployed recruits from the NGO Men at the Side of Road with the prospect of a business career. The eight riders are shareholders in the promising enterprise, and will soon have the opportunity to run pedicab businesses of their own under the Cyclecabs banner.

Riders have received a range of training, from riding the pedicabs and understanding the rules of the road to developing core business skills, which ‘is critical because it’s not just about creating jobs but empowering them as entrepreneurs’.

The original idea was that riders would be required to rent a pedicab each for a R50 daily fee, and build their own businesses – but the winter rains have delayed this next phase. Instead, riders will receive a weekly stipend of R250 as well as meals, to help them until spring time.

By Gail Jennings, Mobility Magazine, Cape Town, South Africa

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