A night with the taxi squad

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John Sievers pedals one of the Eco Taxi's owned by Miguel Valdez of Rochester as he transports Nicholle Rymer and Nate Onhsee south on Broadway towards Thursday on First activities June 9, 2016.

Pedicab, cycle rickshaw, and bike taxi are a few of the many names given to a person-powered, pedaled taxi. Since 2011, when Miguel Valdez Soto opened Rochester's Smart Ride Eco Taxi , we've called our city's version Eco Taxis.

Having been a passenger on a pedicab, I'd always wanted to pedal one myself, so I convinced Valdez Soto to let me try. After getting a driving check from the Department of Public Safety, I talked to a few pros for tips.

Enrique Zavala-Rocha, a 19-year-old who's been pedaling for about two years, recommended I bring water and have a positive attitude. He also showed me how to gear down at stops to make it easier to restart burdened with passengers.

"Use your signals and have fun with passengers," recommended Joshua Poencet. The veteran drivers showed me their Bluetooth speakers and credit card Squares, explaining they work for tips, but pre-negotiate fares for longer trips.

I was apprehensive when I wheeled my bright-yellow, advertisement-covered pedicab out, but within minutes, I picked up my first fare, friends Nicholle Rymer and Nate Onhsee. I pedaled them to their Thursdays on First destination, and despite the flat terrain, I broke a sweat.


Eventually, I remembered to use my left hand for turning signals and for flashing my brake lights. With each customer, my confidence grew, but so did the ache in my legs.

One of the most interesting aspects of pedaling the taxi was meeting people, both natives and visitors. I soon found myself becoming an ambassador for Rochester, telling customers about where to get the best Italian food and where to see live music.

Two locals, Chris Anderson and Steve McNaughton, tried the pedicab for the first time.

"It was fun to have a little tour of downtown Rochester at night since we usually see it during the day working at Mayo," Anderson said. "I'd tell my friends to give it a try."

Katie Tillotson and Katelin Christoffer had me pedal them to the Sinclair gas station to pick up a few things on their way home. As I geared down to get them up a hill, Tillotson called the pedicab "unexpected."

Kids adored the Eco Taxi, and I enjoyed taking several for their first pedicab experience. Katelyn and Reese Lajesse (ages 6 and 4, respectively), with butterfly and shark-painted cheeks, took a short ride with their father, Joe, who works for Solar Connection, another eco-friendly company.

I never realized how steep the incline is between downtown and St. Mary's until, dripping with sweat and out of breath, I pedaled Lise Rousseau Silva back to her hotel. She hailed from Polson, Mont., where she owns Fat Robin Orchard and Farm, an organic cherry farm.

Within four hours, I'd pedaled 36 passengers. I'd taken fares to see a Rochester Honkers baseball game and to the Eisenberg Building to visit patients. I'd even pedaled coolers back to the Doggery to expedite a Thursdays on First teardown. Heading home, shaky-legged but smiling, I felt connected to Rochester the way only a pedicab driver can.

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