Pedal power: Boston Pedicab driver talks tricks of the trade

Pedicab driver Roger Lussier stretches out on his green chariot.PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
Pedicab driver Roger Lussier stretches out on his green chariot.PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

Thirty-one-year-old Roger Lussier loves his city.

Luckily for him, he gets to spend his day boasting about it to tourists, rubbing elbows with its residents and taking in the city’s iconic sights – all while working on his undoubtedly impressive glutes.

Since 2010, the affable Allston resident and Boston University alumn has put in thousands of hours peddling for Boston Pedicab. As part of Metro’s Bold Bostonians series, Lussier shared the tricks of his trade, and tips for pedicab-wary passengers.

What exactly is a Pedicab?

It’s a 21-speed mountain bike attached to a fiber-glass tub with a padded seat on it
A lot of people call it a lot of different things. A rickshaw is actually not the correct term, but it has become an Americanized way of describing a pedicab. A rickshaw is technically the cabs you pull as you run. The running ones aren’t as common in America.

How did you get into the biz?

My friend was one of the original six pedicabbers. He’d been doing it for five years, and told me about an opportunity. I was a bartender at Our House West, which closed. I was jobless, and he knew I knew the city really well. Being a pedicab driver is similar to bartending in a lot of ways because it’s about creating a relationship with the person. I’ve had people hop on my pedicab and just want to talk.

What’s it like navigating the often cranky streets of Boston?

Pedicab driver Roger Lussier embarks on a fare. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
Pedicab driver Roger Lussier embarks on a fare. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

It’s one of those things where when I’m riding a bike I kind of give a side eye to pedestrians, and when I’m driving I don’t want to deal with bikes. People who drive in the city respond well if you’re communicative; if you’re making eye contact and using hand signals, or waving and pointing. I think that’s why I’ve managed to ride so far without out any accidents.

How do you usually get their attention?

Depends on what part of the city we’re in. Sometimes just yelling “pedicab rides here!” works out pretty well. We’ll say, “open fare rides” or ‘”pay what you want rides.” You kind of establish your own technique, and as long as you’re not bumming out all the other pedicab drivers with your technique, it works well.

Speaking of fare, how much does it cost to catch a ride?

We have an open fare system, which allows a give and take. What I’ve started saying in the last few years is “pay me what you think I’ve earned.” I found people respond pretty well to that. Some hop on, and have an idea of what they expect. Hopefully I exceed that idea through my knowledge of sports, and the city itself; with my sense of humor, and hopefully, my driving ability. I always ask them, “What was it worth to you?”

Do you encounter a lot of drunks?

I don’t recall picking up anyone too obnoxious. I had a drunk guy once ask me, “If I can get that girl to get into the pedicab with me, can I get the ride for free?” and I’m like, “Well you don’t have a chance, so sure!”

Do people overlook pedicabs as an alternative way to get around the city?

I think that a lot of people who turn us down don’t realize that the open fare is actually the way that we operate. I think that’s probably the most common misconception. I’d also say other people think that we’d be slower than other ways of getting around – some people actually think we’d be slower than walking. That’s not true.

What is your favorite place to cruise with passengers?

I really like to go down to the end of Long Wharf because it’s a really great view. A lot of people if they’re coming into town for a visit have reference to Logan [Airport] and their hotel. I get to show them Logan across the harbor and a long view of the Seaport District.

When does it get the craziest?

After Red Sox games. Lansdowne becomes a walking street. People have their back to you, so you just have to ring the bell and say “Pardon me! I hope you have a good time but I’ve gotta get through!” I get a good response back, and that’s how I’m able to get through the foot traffic.

What makes a pedicabber good at the job?

You have to be outgoing, know the city really well, think on your feet both with the way you’re navigating directions and traffic and also with what you’re saying to your passengers. You have to be considerate, knowledgable, and friendly. People like when you project a positive vibe. I find that a smile and being able to relate to someone is key. I’d also argue that since some passengers are not always good at making conversation, you have to read them. Sometimes it’s clear they just do not want to chitchat.

Is it difficult to carry, er, particularly overweight people?

That question comes up a lot, but honestly it’s never an issue. It’s just a matter of putting the bike in the right gear. The weight limit on a pedicab is about 900 pounds. You don’t need to be as strong as most people think, but you should definitely be in some semblance of shape. By the way, we’ve got some ladies, and I’d argue that the women who pedicab are even stronger than the men.

It seems you and your fellow pedicabbers have quite a camaraderie.

They are like brothers and sisters to me in many ways. That’s what keeps me coming back; the community. We go out, and we have the time of our lives.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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