Jordan Hrivnak is ready to start pedaling.
He knows the hills of Asheville can be brutal for bikers, but that doesn’t stop his dream of opening a rickshaw business downtown this spring, putting a new spin on urban transportation.
However, not everyone shares his enthusiasm.
The Asheville City Council heard at its Feb. 8 meeting Hrivnak’s request to open Blue Ridge Rickshaw. The second reading of the franchise agreement is scheduled for February 22.
On February 8, the board voted to approve an ordinance granting the franchise agreement in a 4-3 vote. A vote on final approval will take place during the second reading of the ordinance on February 22.
Mayor Esther Manheimer and council members Sage Turner and Antanette Mosley voted against approving it.
Manheimer said she had “a lot of reservations” about the proposal. She lined up the pedicab with Asheville’s Amazing Pubcycle, a bike bar and party tour that runs through downtown, and horse-drawn carriages banned from town.
She said the franchises have sparked major complaints and fears it is a tourism-focused business rather than benefiting the community as a whole.
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“I’m just concerned that this type of activity is primarily and likely only used by tourists, and doesn’t serve the wider community with transportation needs,” Manheimer said. “I don’t think it will benefit the community as we hoped at this point.”
According to Ken Putnam, director of the city’s transportation department, this is not a common request. He said the city has processed two other pedicab franchise deals in the past.
Hrivnak, who phoned the virtual meeting, said while tourists are likely to be a major pedicab customer, he also wants to support the community.
Unlike the Pubcycle, he said it would be a more “A to B” ride service, with no intention of clogging roads.
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“I’m definitely here for locals first,” he said. “I’m in the same town as them, trying to do something in this town.”
A pedicab is classed as a slow moving vehicle operation and could have a minor impact on traffic.
Putnam said pedicab businesses have not been a traffic problem in the past.
Council member Kim Roney, who sought approval for the ordinance, said that despite apprehension of a company profiting from the right-of-way, it is an opportunity to displace the people who live and work in Asheville, as well as visitors, without the use of fossil fuels or automobile traffic.
According to the staff report, the pedicab service may use up to five vehicles in total, but only one vehicle and one operator will be used initially. Its hours of operation are proposed to be 7 a.m. to 3 a.m., seven days a week.
The service will provide point-to-point transport, with the option of offering guided tours, and the franchise agreement would allow it to grow.
Although Hrivnak has stated that it intends to focus on the downtown area, the agreement outlines a proposed service area that spans the central business district, the southern slopes, the village of Biltmore, the river arts district and many residential areas.
Staff recommended approval of the proposal. Despite the possibility that it could impact vehicular traffic, it supports diverse job growth and business development, alternative modes of transport and “enhances the visitor experience”, according to the report.
The Blue Ridge Rickshaw franchise agreement was reviewed and approved by the Multimodal Transportation Commission and the Public Safety Committee in January.
Hrivnak has been in Asheville for about three years, but before moving to town he took his pedicab on the road – working in Seattle and leading the festival circuit in cities across the country, from Austin, Texas, in Coachella, California.
Since moving to Asheville and the onset of COVID, he said he’s missed the business, a “wacky” people-focused service, and wanted to bring something new downtown.
“It’s a very liberating career, it’s very flexible,” he said.
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“You can share this unique experience, even if it’s for five to 10 minutes, or however long, with these strangers…sharing experiences with humans is something I’m passionate about and love to do. , and I think this job allows that.”
A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Hrivnak, 28, said it would be a change from his usual event-driven model, but he believes Asheville’s tourism industry can support the business. .
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here to meet the needs of people who don’t necessarily want to walk or are just looking for a different way to get around the city,” he said.
“It will be quite heavy to pedal, as the city can be quite brutal”, but he is optimistic that his “Chevrolet legs” can do it – although he admitted he would benefit from the help of a gasoline engine. electric assist.
The franchise agreement provides for one motor for each pedicab, which cannot exceed 750 watts, according to the staff report.
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The city has struggled to maintain similar businesses in the past, such as Asheville Bike Taxi, whose owner Jessie Lehman sold her pedicab business after three years of running it downtown.
Lehman also used electric motors to navigate steep hills.
Hrivnak said he is looking forward to final board approval and is excited to get started. He hopes to launch Blue Ridge Rickshaw in April.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.