A bike taxi, or pedicab, can be a great way to get around a city. Its thin, nimble frame allows passengers (with a healthy dose of help from their “driver”) dip and dodge through traffic, while getting to their destination quickly and saving the environment from more fumes.
But when it’s time for payment, the smooth sailing can sometimes get abruptly choppy. Traditionally, bike taxis accept only cash payments, which creates a significant barrier to entry for many potential customers.
Often, pedicab passengers are tourists or other visitors to a city, who frequently may not have enough, if any, of the local currency to get a ride. Or they may be saving that cash for something else and elect to take a different form of transportation, such as public transit, a traditional cab or a rideshare.
That’s why many pedicab companies and drivers are increasingly embracing mobile payment acceptance solutions.
PYMNTS recently caught up with Ben Morris, founder and chief pedicab officer at Coaster Pedicab, which owns and operates bicycle taxi companies in more than a dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and discussed why many of his drivers are adopting mobile payment tools and what he sees in the future for the two-wheeled transportation industry.
Unlocking more pricing and payment options
Morris explained that each pedal-powered driver working with Coaster Pedicab pays per shift to lease the bike from the company and keeps each dollar of their shift after that. Most drivers operate on tips, which means a potential paying customer and the driver typically agree on a price upfront on a case-by-case basis.
Drivers are free to accept any kind of payment amount they wish for each ride. Morris noted that, historically, cash has been the primary way drivers could make their money.
Technology, however, is changing that. As more providers introduce smaller and more powerful credit card acceptance hardware that can work in the variety of environments where drivers find themselves, Morris said, many drivers have begun to adopt new solutions that allow them to accept card payments.
Many have even started to advertise their credit card acceptance ability on their bike or trailer, which has helped spread the word and increase ridership, Morris said.
“We’re obviously moving into a world of plastic, certainly more than we’re using cash,” he said. “Most drivers tell us that the enhancement and access to remote credit card processing — either in the form of Square or a QuickBooks payments system or whatever that looks like — helps their ability to generate more rides and more customers.”
Morris said it has also opened up opportunities for drivers to provide services other than a simple ride from a passenger’s origin to their destination. Many times, the tourists who seek out bicycle taxis are new to town and are looking to travel in a way that allows them to see city sights.
To serve these customers, Coaster drivers also offer tours. The tours, however, are usually more expensive than a typical ride, and even customers with enough cash to take a pedicab taxi often aren’t carrying enough for a tour, which leads many customers who may otherwise be interested to say “no, thanks.”
With credit card acceptance tools, however, Morris said that more drivers can offer flexible payment options to customers, which means more high-profit tours. Drivers can also use credit card acceptance tools to easily prearrange tours and collect deposits, which opens up another revenue stream for the both the company and its drivers.
“We see lots of opportunities for processing with tours, where the charges are greater than just providing a taxi from Point A to Point B,” Morris said. “If they’re trying to do a long tour, a passenger often says, ‘I don’t have $75 in cash on me for a tour, but I’ve got a credit card,’ and being able to accept cards really helps both the drivers and the customers.”
Keeping up with the competition
One of the main reasons Morris said mobile payments technology can have a large impact on the bicycle taxi industry is the recent sea change in the ridesharing industry.
Over the past few years, taxis and rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft, have transformed the on-demand transportation market by allowing customers to find and pay for a ride in new, innovative ways. Morris said modern payment technology can have a similar impact on the pedicab market.
While mPOS technology may unlock new opportunities for bike taxis, Morris said that he and his team are not satisfied with simply accepting credit and debit card payments in a more modern (and mobile) fashion.
Rather, he said that he is currently working on a new product that will help compete with rideshare services. His company has invested in RidePedal, a new app, similar to Uber, that will allow potential customers to order a ride from and to anywhere in the company’s operating area via their smartphones.
The company is also working to allow drivers to pay their bike-leasing fees after each shift via credit cards, mobile payments or the funds they receive via credit card processing. Currently, drivers must provide this payment in cash, no matter how they receive payment from their riders.
Morris said that any development that can make it easier for pedicab drivers to find new customers and accept more rides is going to have a positive impact on the industry.
“We’re moving more and more to a cashless society,” Morris said, noting that the various advantages of modern payment methods will boost their impact on the pedicab industry. “More credit card or other types of transactions will happen on the street, and there’s going to be a lot less cash in the industry.”
By this rationale, it seems that, in the pedicab world, less cash may, in fact, mean more money. And it may not be long before consumers will be able to call a bike taxi and pay for it — all from their mobile phones.
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