Last spring, with snow still in the air, business partners Blake Harris and Kevin Murphy accepted delivery of four pedicabs from a big truck parked on Newburyport’s waterfront.
Last spring, with snow still in the air, business partners Blake Harris and Kevin Murphy accepted delivery of four pedicabs from a big truck parked on Newburyport’s waterfront. Their number one goal for the business was to raise money for the Pan-Mass Challenge, a fundraiser for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“We unloaded all four cabs from the truck, in front of The Black Cow,” Harris says. “Kevin and I took two and rode up State Street. Every head turned. We knew then it would take off.”
And take off it has. “It’s great!” Murphy says. “It has really turned into a legitimate company at this point.”
Murphy is being modest -- it was all carefully planned out way before they unloaded that truck last spring.
“A lot of it has come from us doing it right,” Harris notes.
By the time the bicycle-powered cabs hit the ground in Newburyport, they had secured the enthusiastic approval of the City Council, the company had registered for nonprofit status, the drivers had been trained and almost all the sponsors had been secured. By the end of the first month of operation all the advertising for the season had been sold.
Goal number two was Murphy’s, as long-time mentor to his young friend: to get the 17-year-old Harris to understand how to set up and run a company.
Harris runs the company from the office — reminiscent of Louis’ office in “Taxi” — virtually by himself. Murphy has a full-time job.
“He has taken on 95 percent of the management,” Murphy says.
The third goal was to provide ecologically friendly service to residents of and visitors to Newburyport.
“To date, we’ve done all three,” Murphy reports with satisfaction.
All of the profit, except for Harris’ salary, goes to cancer research. Marketing, legal services and the Web site are all donated. The company leases shifts on the pedicabs to its drivers. The rides are free; the drivers work for tips.
Driver Mike Cronan last week reported making $400 in tips in one night; he gives half of what he makes back to the company to go toward the cause.
“It’s not the run-of-the-mill business,” Murphy says. It’s a business they like to think saves lives. It’s a business in which everyone, including the riders, gives of himself or herself.”
Newburyport Pedicab takes visitors around town and out to Plum Island; it takes a woman who broke her foot into town to shop once a week; and it takes people from home to work. The Plum Island Grille hired the company to provide valet service on weekends.
“If you see us around, we’re not busy,” Murphy says.
Murphy found the pedicabs as the result of what he calls a goof on his sister. The two had ridden in the Pan-Mass Challenge on a tandem bicycle. Murphy says his sister, Laurie, spent more time waving, snapping pictures and other such activities than she did pedaling. He looked around for some bicycle-related conveyance where she didn’t have to pedal at all – like he says, a goof. The pedicabs were too heavy to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge but it occurred to him that Newburyport would lend itself well to a pedicab business.
“At the same time Blake was starting summer vacation and looking around for a job,” Murphy says.
“It just clicked with both of us – hey, this would be great for Newburyport,” Harris says. He attends St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers.
So far, no one has fallen out of a cab, none has tipped over and they have had no problems with the law. The cabs are classified as bicycles so have rights to the road, but the drivers will pull over to the side if they notice the cab is causing a traffic problem.
The drivers have their customers who ask for them specifically, Harris says. Mark Provost is a history buff so takes people on slow, relaxing rides where they can take in the history of Newburyport. Will Blackwood is more the speedster who brings his own custom bike seat to work with him -- if you’re in a hurry, ask for Will.
It’s quite a ride. They have mastered the hills and the key to pulling a 150-pound cab and several hundred pounds of people up them.
“It’s harder than you think,” Harris says.
With that mastery, they have now stopped trying to find creative ways to avoid State Street — but the drivers still appreciate the reward of going downhill on Green Street. They’ll be out there through Columbus Day.