“I figured, if that other guy has a car, they could definitely run me down,” said Downing, who declined the chance for his pedicab to become a “General Lee,” the Dukes of Hazzard’s infamous getaway vehicle.
Often miscalled a rickshaw, which is actually a cab pulled by hand, pedicabs are the three-wheeled bike-cab contraptions usually spotted on weekends in Tuscaloosa. After driving pedicabs for three years in Tuscaloosa and two years in his home state of Colorado, Downing is a veteran driver.
Downing, a junior majoring in public relations, said he found the job opportunity after his older brothers got involved in the business. Despite it being a seemingly physical job, he said pedicab driving is not as hard as it looks.
“People always want to know how in shape my calves are, but really it’s all about the quads,” Downing said.
Although it generally takes him a few days to recover after working a long weekend of driving, Downing said being a pedicab driver has many benefits over working a typical college job at a fast food restaurant or retail store. By making his own hours and working only on the weekends, Downing said he has found that he makes more hour for hour than anyone he knows.
While he dished out $4,000 for his own cab plus another $1,800 to ship it from the manufacturer in Colorado, the pedicab quickly paid for itself, Downing said. Despite the $2 per block fee he charges, his wages skyrocket once tips are factored in.
“The biggest tip I’ve ever gotten was $84,” Downing said. “I broke the known town record for [earnings] once when I made $1,225 on a gameday.”
According to Downing, a certain kind of passenger helps bring in these big numbers.
“Drunk people tip better and want a ride a lot more,” Downing said. “Intoxication is our bread and butter.”
While driving, he regularly hears about who’s dating who and what fights broke out, and he has also witnessed a girl flash him. While he most often frequents fraternity houses and bars when he drives students around, Downing has also driven a passenger to the local jail to bail out a friend.
Downing said he usually scopes out crowded areas around fraternity row and the Strip three or four hours before an event starts. He typically stays out until around 3:30 a.m., getting high-fives and occasional pushes from pedestrians as he makes his way up hills.
Emma Farrell, a junior majoring in communicative disorders, took her first pedicab ride this year from fraternity row to the bars on Friday before gameday. Farrell said the choice to take a ride over walking was not so much for the experience but rather for convenience.
“It was a good alternative to a DD, and it was right there. It was [sort of] expensive, so I’ll probably just walk next time unless I really need it,” Farrell said.
Farrell said she found riding to be more entertaining than walking because of the interactions she and her friends had with her driver.
“On the ride over there we had a nice conversation about how he got into the rickshaw industry,” said Farrell. “We got to the row and [my friend] tried to let the rickshaw guy drive into the fraternity’s backyard.”