Rickshaw company brings new pace to downtown traffic

Partners invest more than $25,000 to get dream on the ground

Posted: Thursday, June 22, 2006

Paulee Offerson and Morgan Deering have been talking about starting a bicycle rickshaw operation in town for the last two years.

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They discovered that starting their first business - and applying for licensing to transport passengers - is more difficult than they imagined.

Hansom Boys Rickshaw, named for the English horse-drawn cab inventor John Hansom, hit the streets June 6. Offerson and Deering invested more than $25,000 into the concept and began applying for permitting in August 2005.

"We've definitely had our trial and error of what permits we really needed and where to get them," Offerson said.

The business has already attracted attention downtown. Offerson and Deering wear Chinese-style rickshaw hats and charge $5 to $10 to transport passengers between three approved parking areas. The business operates from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. most days.

The tourist traffic can be intense, especially when lined-up buses are making the left-hand turn into the Mount Roberts Tram parking lot.

"Those buses will wait for people, and then they'll wait for a clear shot," Deering said. "That's 12 more buses. It stacks up to Taku Smokeries, past the parking lot."

Last summer, Doug Eberhart used a rickshaw to pick up passengers and ride them all over downtown. Eberhart, then living in a tent near Costco, was hoping to scrape together tips. But he was told he would need to pay at least $1,725 for business permitting, so he quit.

There was a legal rickshaw business in Juneau at some point in the 1990s, Offerson said.

Deering and Offerson have invested from savings and credit cards. They rent four carts to subcontractors, and have one pedicab insurance policy to cover all the riders.

They have advertising space on their carts and the back of their shirts. They estimate it would take them four to five years to make that money back if they had one bike, as Eberhart did.

"The only advantage we have is that we have four bikes, and with two other people renting bikes, it will help get us some of that money back," Offerson said. "If we would have gotten the permits a little sooner, we'd be able to pay it off this year."

Deering, 31, has been tinkering with bikes since he was 14 and has been coming to Southeast Alaska for the summer since 1998. He has been studying toward his a flight instructor license for the last few years.

He hopes to log enough flight hours this winter to find a job next summer with one of Juneau's smaller flight operators. Ideally, he would manage the rickshaw business part-time, renting the vehicles to riders.

Offerson, 32, lives in Bellingham, Wash., where he has attended Western Washington University. He has spent three of the last five summers in Skagway and met Deering in 2002. Both worked for a summer pedicab business in Skagway.

"We always thought, 'This is somebody I could start a business with,'" Offerson said. "We kept thinking about things we'd like to run and own together, and this came out as the best solution to what this town needed. Once we're here, we'll figure out more options, more business opportunities."

Starting the business required a "needs and necessities" permit and an umbrella insurance policy that met the city's standards. The drivers needed a chauffeur's permit to pick up passengers, and a business license to rent the rickshaws.

Licensing has meant background checks - a problem for transient workers who have lived in a handful of states. A few potential drivers are still waiting to be approved.

Deering and Offerson also had to secure permission to pick up passengers on private property. Hansom Boys Rickshaw is permitted as a shuttle. As of now, they're allowed to pick people up at the Princess Cruise dock off Franklin Street; at the Twisted Fish Co. Alaskan Grill and at the small parking lot near Little Switzerland, the Paradise Cafe and the rear of Shoefly.

They can't pick people up along the way, like a taxicab. But they say they hope the city will permit them to extend their range into pickup spots downtown.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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