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Video A High-Tech Pedicab Dispatch System at SXSW in Austin (Video) 66

It's Austin, where people are proud to be weird -- and are more environmentally aware and more concerned about energy use than in the rest of Texas. Add SXSW, with its combination of techies, musicians, film people, and general hipsters. What could be more natural at SXSW than combining a pedicab (called a bicycle rickshaw in Old Delhi and other Indian cities) with Uber's smartphone-based dispatch system? Hook Uber up with local pedicab company Easy Rider, get Samsung to sponsor it all, and you are environmentally conscious, high tech, and (possibly) hip all at once. Totally Austin. Totally SXSW. And totally promotional for all three companies involved.

Michael: My name is Michael Rivera and I am a pedicabber here in Austin working for the company Easy Rider.

Tim: For people who don’t come from cities with pedicabs, what does that mean?

Michael: Well, a pedicab is a bicycle taxicab basically. Technically, I am a non-motor chauffeur, and I pedal people for a living.

Tim: I notice you have got an electronic dispatch system. Can you talk about how that works?

Michael: Oh yeah. So Samsung is doing a little promotional deal. They teamed up with Uber who has created this dispatch system and I don’t know if you can see it.

Tim: Not very well.

Michael: Well, basically, someone can go through Uber when they are in Austin, ask for a pedicabber, and the closest pedicabber to their GPS location will get pinged, and they have 15 seconds to tap the screen, and accept the Uber call. Then I basically just drive to the person and then pick them up and the whole payment process is streamlined. When I say okay I am arriving, and then when I get there, I pick them up, I say begin trip, and then we begin the trip, and when it’s done, I push a button end trip, and then I type in the amount and rate them, and they rate me, and that’s that.

Tim: How does that vary from doing without that kind of system?

Michael: Without that, basically I just cruise the city and wait for people to flag me down, or I call out, “you need a pedicab, pedicab, pedicab?” I ring a bell, and I also got a horn.

Tim: What do you think of the interface the phone-based system?

Michael: It is alright. There are some kind of like quirks to it, the info button doesn’t work, it just says message typed, ok description unable to find last trip for way bill.

Tim: That is not very helpful.

Michael: No.

Tim: How does the system work?

Michael: The system? It is just an application on iPhone. It is kind of funny, Samsung teamed up with Uber ____2:07 iPhones.

Tim: That is funny. How would you improve it?

Michael: How would I improve it? So when the dispatch screen pops up and you get an Uber call it zooms in to their GPS location, pretty far, and you can only accept it, you can’t decline it, so I would put a decline button as well as an accept button, just like a phone call, and that way, you could look at the dispatch screen and see and zoom in and zoom out and figure out exactly where they are. Because sometimes it is just so zoomed in, you don’t know where the hell they are and you can’t find them, and you are just like alright whatever. And then it takes 15 seconds, even after you’ve decided in your head I don’t want that ride, it is just a waste of time.

Tim: Do you find it distracting to have another thing attached to your bike? With cars, people are pretty upset about texting and things like that.

Michael: I am pretty used to it. In the past, I have had a boom case, a little speaker box right here, and I had my iPhone hooked up, and I am used to having iPhone right here, and playing with it, and making playlists and stuff like that.

Tim: While you are driving?

Michael: Yeah.

Tim: So what kind of people ride in the pedicabs?

Michael: All kinds of people. You’ll get regulars, mostly drunk people at night, a lot of drunk people, even sometimes during the day you will just get waste people, but there are a lot of cool people that you meet, occasionally you’ll get a really awesome ride, and you are really engaged with somebody, and connect and have an awesome conversation, and those are rides that you value the most.

Tim: Is this your biggest week of the year?

Michael: Yes. These are the ten hardest days in my life.

Tim: Now how hard is it in general to be driving one of these around?

Michael: Pretty hard. When it is just you, it is not bad, when there are three people, three 250-pounder dudes, that’s when it gets hard.

Tim: Have you driven that much?

Michael: Oh yeah. I have taken 750 pounds from Sixth Street all the way, I think ten blocks, no more like 12 blocks all the way to the stadium uphill, and that is a brutal brutal experience.

Tim: But it is not as hilly here as some cities are.

Michael: Yeah, it is not as hilly as some cities but it is hilly enough.

Tim: Talk about your bike for a minute? What kind of gearing on it to carry all those fat drunken people?

Michael: Yeah, it is really geared basic 21 gears, but there is a grandma gear that I use a lot.

Tim: The grandma gear? That’s a nice easy gear?

Michael: Yeah, really, really small. So if I am going up a hill I will crank it down to the grandma gear, my legs will be flying but we won’t be moving that fast, but that is the only way to get up, otherwise it would be impossible.

Tim: Were you much of a biker before this?

Michael: Yeah, biking is one of my main methods of transportation. After gas prices started rising, I got angry at having to pay so much money for gas, so it is like, screw this, I am just going to get a bike, and so more out of resentment towards gas prices, I became a bicyclist.

Tim: How do you get to work?

Michael: How do I get to work? I drive a car because I can’t get back home after a night of pedi driving.

Tim: You can’t call another pedicab?

Michael: I would but usually at like 3:30 a.m. everyone is going in. By the time I am ready to go home, it is 4 a.m. at the shop, and I put up my bike, and there’s not really many pedicabbers out there.

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A High-Tech Pedicab Dispatch System at SXSW in Austin (Video)

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  • by Seumas ( 6865 )

    Bunch of self-indulgent, over-important, overly-commercial, self-involved hipsters.

    And I'm from Portland, so that's saying something.

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Monday March 18, 2013 @03:37PM (#43206469) Homepage Journal

    This isn't novel. I live in a regressive-as-hell southern city, with tons of sprawl, that isn't even all that large, and we've had this exact service for over a year. Yet another super-positive review of a particular company dealing in a not-all-that-interesting product.

    Thankfully buzzword free, but still quite shillish.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    who told me that the key to really SXSWing is to SXSW when I can and not SXSW about missing a day or two of my SXSW routine. I think I really SXSWed a lot at this years SXSW and look forward to SXSWing more in the future. #YOSXSWO

    • who told me that the key to really SXSWing is to...

      have SXSW with all your friends? Maybe some strangers, too?

    • #YOLO?
    • by lemur3 ( 997863 )

      at least they arent saying 'Burning Man'

      though sure, from what ive seen there at burning man.. that slashdot and the 'social media' sites could easily be filled with tons of neato stories about the tech/projects people work on at burning man.. a lot more hotels at sxsw..

  • global multinationals?

  • *General* hipsters? (Score:2, Informative)

    by QilessQi ( 2044624 )

    Add SXSW, with its combination of techies, musicians, film people, and general hipsters

    I saw this and thought, aw, crap: the hipsters have finally organized into a military hierarchy. I wonder what you have to do to get promoted to Hipster General... does it involve wearing ironically out-of-date plastic frames with zero-prescription lenses while scribbling notes for your YA zombie rom-com novel in a Moleskine notebook using nothing but artisinally-sharpened Blackwing 602 pencils? Or am I just thinking o

    • artisinally-sharpened Blackwing 602 pencils

      Oh my God, you made me look this up and you are right... there is a scruffy, hipster underground paying $20 for an "original" or about $1.25 for a recreation of a commercially unsuccessful soft-lead pencil. Then, when they find out that their soft-lead pencil doesn't last very long (which is why most people don't use them), they invent a two-step pencil sharpener that lets you start with a longer lead.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I wonder what you have to do to get promoted to Hipster General

      You must wear the plastic frames that out-of-date are quite ironical,
      And scribe in Moleskine notes a zombie fiction most rom-comical:
      In short in matters independent, artisan, and cynical
      You'll be the very model of a modern Hipster-General. ... you know, before it was mainstream.

      • That's awesome! Why'd you post AC?

        (No, wait, I can guess... you're down in Austin RIGHT NOW, aren't you?)

  • Riding in a normal cab downtown we saw a pedicab and commented. The driver made it known with a mix profanity and some Eastern European language I did not recognize that he felt they were a pest.
    • by skine ( 1524819 )

      Bicyclists annoy people more than enough as is.

      Add in that they're using larger, slower vehicles, and have a strong incentive to be aggressive, and I'm sure people will like them better!

  • I just got back from SXSW yesterday. A high-tech dispatch system for pedicabs? Stick your arm out until you clothesline one off his bike. Seriously, they were everywhere, and maybe 5% ever had a passenger. You don't need a high-tech system to organize something that's both ubiquitous and worthless.
    • by alen ( 225700 )

      how much were the pedicabs?

      i'm guessing they cost as much or more than a normal auto taxi. sure there is less carbon footprint, but the trip takes a lot longer which means the person has to charge more per passenger

      what's the point of paying more to take more time to arrive at your destination?

      • More time and more effort if you are unlucky. A friend and I flagged down one of these (not in Austin, but some town near LA), and it turned out the driver was a nice Ukrainian girl, so all was well... until we hit the first hill. The poor lady had some trouble hauling two somewhat overweight middle aged guys up on the incline, so we volunteered for pedal duty. Turns out it's something of an exercise to propel these things along!

        Austin is not very hilly though, IIRC.
      • I know a guy who worked as a rickshaw runner. You could rent out a rickshaw from some company who owned a bunch, and it was up to you how much you charged and to determine how to make any money. Most people did it for the novelty, and not because they had to get anywhere in a hurry, or because it was cheaper than any other form of transportation. I imagine that pedicabs are pretty much in the same situation. It's a little like taking a handsome cab around central park. Sure there's faster and cheaper w
  • The assertion that Austin is 'more concerned about energy use than in the rest of Texas' seems curious to me. If the Texans that crawl onto the national stage are any indication, Texans are obsessively concerned about energy use... they just happen to be in favor of it.

    • Austin in general is a whole 'nother Texas, but these days it's more corporate than hippie. Not at all the legendary Austin of the 1970s, though everyone tries to pretend it still is.

      Now the politicians in Austin... they're Pure Texas.

    • The assertion that Austin is 'more concerned about energy use than in the rest of Texas' seems curious to me. If the Texans that crawl onto the national stage are any indication, Texans are obsessively concerned about energy use... they just happen to be in favor of it.

      This movement seems to be well in keeping with that theory. I mean, the rickshaws are definitely more environmentally friendly than automobiles, but the use of cell phones, packed full of rare earth metals, non-biodegradable plastics, glass and biohazardous batteries, all of which will be chucked away in 6 months when the newer model with the different font on the model name comes out, ranks right up there with the "to hell with the environment" conservatives that they love to slam.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Pedicab is the worst possible idea for Austin, especially when it actually starts to get hot.

    • No problem . . . the next SXSW will feature pedicab powered air conditioners!

      But wait . . . there's still more . . . we'll throw in a personalized limited edition pedicab Bass-o-Matic!

      And a spiral slicer.

  • The Austin downtown area is where most of the SXSW action occurs, and Austin's downtown really isn't that big. People needing cabs or pedicabs to move six blocks is a simple 10 to 15 minute walk.
    • by Seumas ( 6865 )

      Have you ever tried walking in retro- early 80s or 70s low-rise boots from the vintage thrift store while wearing super-tight women's pants and sweating through your "ironic" (used to mean insincere, rather than the actual definition of the word, as is always the case with hipsters) facial hair, with a "bespoke" messenger bag crafted out of recycled tires and third-world-toilet-paper with a giant communist icon emblazoned over the face of the bag, for more than eighty feet?!

  • It's very very sad that there must be an active "Keep Austin Weird" movement. Yaknow, when I lived there (left not by my own will in '98) it was just plain weird by itself and didn't need any sort of artificial campaign. In fact I would argue that some campaign actually decreases the amount of genuine weirdness, as it encourages people to create a contrived weirdness where none existed before. Sad. What happened to my beloved city in the last 15 years?

    Oh yeah, hipsters. Good job, assholes.

    • It's been downhill over the last year since Leslie died.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I would argue that the "hipster" concept was ultimately destroyed by the Internet, and the commercialization of "alternative" music that took place in the late 80s/early 90s.

      Prior to that, you kind of had to have a yen for weirdness to even understand the hipster concept. Now all you have to do is read the internet and have facial hair.

      • by Seumas ( 6865 )

        But, by definition, hipsters follow popular trends and culture, with the modern twist of also being "ironic" (except they misuse "irony" when they really just like this disingenuously). Being a hipster is not about liking things and your taste in things for the sake of those things. Being a hipster is a completely insincere act of liking things and following trends almost purely for the effect it has on your perceived social status.

        You and I might like that one band because of that one awesome song they do.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          I think the irony thing has been around longer than that. Even the relatively genuine hipsters of the 1980s had an affectation for 1950s cultural paraphernalia but in an "ironic" mode.

          The Replacements have a song from 1983 that underscores it perfectly --

          Everybody at your party
          they don't look distressed
          Everybody's dressing funny
          Color me impressed...

  • by VAXcat ( 674775 ) on Monday March 18, 2013 @06:03PM (#43208029)
    The motto in Austin is "Keep Austin Weird". The motto in Houston, seen on T-shirts and posters - "Keep Austin 163 miles from here"
  • The fact that they're doing it in Austin makes many of the rest of us Texans leary of the idea.
  • I've had a personal rickshaw for about 6 years. Fun! I haul friends and family around. Good times.

    The Chinese one I started with is junky, but the Colorado-built Main Street I have bought since is far more capable. At $3400 new, they also cost about 10x what the Chinese ones run. Mine was bought used, and I have about $1000 in it as it sits today (details here: [] )

    If you've thought about getting a rickshaw for personal use, without knowing any detai

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM