Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Twenty pedicab drivers and two ride thieves

Imagine that you work in an office.  You arrived at work yesterday only to find your office door was locked.  Someone had gotten in and was doing your work.  They sneaked in before you got there, took over your job for the day, kept to themselves, emailed the work out at 5 PM, and finished up.  The person who took over your office for the day then went to your boss and demanded your salary! 

Should the manager pay them, because of the work they did or should you,  the person who was hired for the job, be paid?  This was the position I found myself in yesterday: the position of the manager who has been fooled by someone who usurped the place of the hired worker. 

Yesterday was Monday, July 26.  On May 21 I got a query from a tour operator in Ohio: would I organize a tour of Central Park by twenty pedicabs for July 26?  The gig was to be a full tour of the lower loop of Central Park, followed by a trip south on Seventh, right turn on 47th to the hotel on Eighth Avenue. We corresponded back and forth for the next two months, twenty emails in all, covering the route, pickup and dropoff, customer preferences, payment, timing, etc. 

On my own, I started finding drivers.  This would be tricky.  Monday is the day off for people in the tourism and hospitality trades, including pedicab drivers.

Working within the framework of the NYC Pedicab Owner Association (POA), of which I'm a member, is best.  I hired drivers for the event who either owned their own pedicabs or rented from POA members.  These people have a stake in the pedicab industry and are least likely to get instructions wrong, or to get ticketed while driving with clients.  In a word, they're trustworthy.  It's probable that they're also trained better than drivers from non-POA companies, but that's a matter of opinion. 

The bulk of POA member garages are not in Midtown.  Revolution Rickshaw is down on far West 31st Street; Manhattan Rickshaw, in business since 1995, is way down on Washington near 10th, in the West Village.  But their people are dedicated.  Some of them have been driving at least as long as I have.  I knew they could be counted on to show up, even on a Monday. 

About two weeks from the date of the tour, I started hiring drivers.  Got nine on the first day.  I would be the second-oldest driver.  The eldest was 68.  Between the tour operator in Ohio and myself, we calculated 1.5 hours for the whole tour.  Payment was to be better than average, which made it easier to get people for a Monday gig. 

One driver is 68, as said, and I'm glad to get him any work I can.  Another is a petite woman who just turned 40.  She needed the money for some health-related matters.  Very few pedicabbers have health insurance, so keeping healthy can be very expensive. 

On the morning of the 3:00 PM ride, I group texted all those who were hired: "Say YES if you're ready for this afternoon's ride."  One after another, the YESes came in, though there were a few who couldn't make it.  And one whose phone was turned off.  I hung out here at my desk, getting the numbers of POA members and even nonmembers.  Then I had to arrange with a POA member who owned several pedicabs to make a definite replacement for the missing man.  He also brought another driver on standby, in case one or two of my people wouldn't show up.  As it happened, someone also had a flat tire and nearly missed the gig! 

Twenty pedicabs gathered in the unused parking lot of the once and future Tavern On The Green.  But several pedicabbers not in the gig showed up as well.  Suspecting that I might, after all, need to hire them, I asked them to wait and see how things turned out.  The tour escort had earlier offered to pay on the spot for extras if needed.

But here I made a crucial pair of mistakes.  I didn't think to separate their pedicabs from my guys.  I also didn't think to mark my pedicabs with the name of the tour company, which I really should have done.  I'll always do that from now on.  It turned out badly for me and two other drivers who drove three miles up from Greenwich Village for the gig. 

The customers came in.  I greeted them en masse, then turned to the tour escort and the licensed guide, an old friend, as the customers went and got into pedicabs.  One minute later I turned around.  A few pedicabs had already left!  I had wanted to stagger their departures.  Who pulled out in such a hurry, I wondered to myself? 

As the rest pulled out into the park, it became clear that two of my hired drivers were empty.  I turned to the tour operator and asked, "Did everyone show up?  All forty?"
"Yes, they're all here.  Is everything OK?"
My pedicab was empty, as well as those of two other drivers.
"Something's wrong... it looks like six people got on the wrong bikes." 
Instantly I thought of the standbys.  I thought they had mistakenly gotten mixed up in the ride.  But the important thing from the operator's point of view was that all the customers were getting their tour.  So they and the guide left, and I was left with the two drivers. 

When the tour was over, my spare drivers and I drove down to the hotel.  I had to pay the drivers.  One of them maintained that the two who "mistakenly" picked people up were ride thieves.  When I got there, a few of my drivers whispered and texted to me that the two guys who had come in on their own had hustled customers into their 'cabs and taken off. The two were unaware that I, and not the customers, would pay drivers at the end.

And what is a ride thief?  This is a term peculiar to our industry.  A ride thief insinuates himself into a lineup for a ride, takes off with customers, then demands payment for the work that he did, ignoring the fact that he's shut someone else out of the job. 
As it turned out, my friend's standby driver had mistakenly picked people up.  I apologized to him and gave him $10 out of my own pocket. Then  I talked with one of the ride thieves, explaining that I had NOT told him to pick people up; that I'd asked him to wait.  He was not happy to hear that I couldn't pay him.  At that moment, I believed him to be an honest man who had made a mistake.  A day later, I'm still wondering.  I've always liked the guy. 
But the other guy!  He demanded payment.  "I just worked an hour and a half, and you don't want to give me anything?"  I apologized and explained that I'd asked him to wait.  "I'm waiting!  I'm waiting now!"  He kept on demanding money for the work he'd done, not listening to my explanations.  I got out my Manhattan map and showed him that the driver he's taken the ride from had come in on the train from Queens, walked ten blocks to the garage, and drove three miles up to the park.   And that they would have to go back empty-handed if I paid him for taking their customers. 
I apologized to this guy like fifteen times, but he wasn't having it.  I offered him $10 out of my own pocket (should I get nothing for doing all this planning and execution?).  "F U C K your ten dollars!"  He kept insisting that I owed him the same payment I gave all the others. 
One of my friends spoke to him in French, his native tongue, explaining the situation, plucking the map out of my hand and showing the ride  thief how much the other driver deserved the money.  Another driver told him that the money was all paid out to the hirees; there was no more to pay him with. 
Finally he rode off, angrily pointing at me and saying, "I'm gonna remember you owe me money!!"  A veiled threat?
Now I have twenty drivers appreciative of making good money on a Monday, two unhappy drivers, and one wild card.  What happens next time he sees me, and we're not surrounded by other drivers? 


Find my videos about New York and worldwide travel by going to Youtube.com and typing in "TourguideStan"

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TourguideStan on the New York City forum of traveler advice at TripAdvisor.com.  http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g60763-i5-New_York_City_New_York.html

My site for pedicab, bike, bus or walking tours: http://www.oconnorgreentoursnyc.com/

1 comment:

BorisBecker said...

Nice description of yesterday's event. I agree where you made your mistake and that was not decorating the hired pedicabs with signs or corresponding numbers for customers to embark upon. It was a free-for-all once the customers arrived. It gave the ride theives the opportunity to steal the rides. Next time, spend some time and $$$ at Kinko's and create a detachable sign or placards with a number on them. This will make things easier.

Other than that glitch, thank you Stan, the ride was wonderful. I actually like the idea of starting a tour before a starting point in that it gives you time to have small talk before your tour. I didn't start my tour until the 7th Avenue exit and I think that was for the better as I learned about my customers and they learned about me.