Belleville Bike Taxi: Bar patrons cheer when they see the giant red tricycle

News-DemocratAugust 19, 2013 

Belleville bar patrons are happy when they see Duncan Sewell and his giant red tricycle.

"It's pretty crazy," Sewell said. "As soon as I pull up to the bars at night I get lots of cheers. It never used to be that way when I came to the bars."

Business has been good since the 24-year-old rolled out Belleville Bike Taxi, a bike taxi service in downtown Belleville. He began peddling his new business during the annual Art On The Square outdoor art show in May. Sewell quit his job as a contract mass mailer and filing clerk before he started pedaling passengers.

He bought his three-wheel bike, called a "pedicab," from VIP Pedicab. Sewell said the California company is the only one in the country that sells multi-passenger three-wheelers. He bought a used one for $3,000 -- a new one would have cost about $8,000.

It looks like a mountain bike in the front with two padded benches with seat belts. There is enough room for five passengers. The one in the very back faces forward and is about 46 inches long, and a 36-inch-long bench that sits directly behind Sewell's bike seat faces the opposite direction.

Fastened to his handle bars is a "headlight" that is the size of a small flashlight and small harness to hold his cell phone, which also has a global positioning system to help him find any destination. He said he can travel as fast as 25 miles per hour and can get passengers from downtown to anywhere else in Belleville in about 15 minutes.

Sewell said his brother Blaise came up with the idea when they were leaving a Belleville bar last Christmas Eve and were looking for a ride home.

"I wanted something for people who go to the bars so they can find a ride home," he said.

He will take passengers anywhere in town and into neighboring Swansea. He transports most customers to area restaurants, bars and MetroLink stations. He recently transported customers from Belleville to a wedding in Mascoutah.

"It was weird because the way there is downhill and it took me about 50 minutes," he said. "But then on the way back, it only took me half an hour."

Sewell has no set rates. Passengers pay what they can.

"You can pay what you want or what you think it is worth," he said. "That way it's affordable for everyone."

"It's different every single night and with every single person," he added. "Every single trip is completely different. I have a lot of people that are just like, 'Go to the bar,' or I take them down to the fountain and back and they say, 'Here's a few bucks. Here's five bucks.' And then I'll have people who are going to the west end and normally a taxi won't cost them this much, but they'll give me $20 or $30 for that. That's nice. Some people will say, 'Take me around the fountain and back,' and then they'll give me $50."

Belleville resident Jalin Rose was walking downtown last Wednesday afternoon when he came across Sewell and his pedicab. Rose decided to get on board.

"I was just walking up the street and he picked me up," the 20-year-old said. "The ride was smooth. It is a unique service."

Sewell said downtown Belleville bars provided him free advertising. His logo, which his brother designed, can be seen on coasters distributed among the various downtown taverns and eateries.

His bike is also a roving billboard. He also sells space on the back of his bike, where local businesses can advertise.

He said he plans to operate year-round and to install a cab cover over the passenger seats during the winter. He said he has talked to other pedicab services that pick up passengers outside of Busch Stadium after Cardinal games in downtown St. Louis who have told him that they remain busy throughout the winter months.

He also wants to buy more pedicabs and rent them out.

"The only rules that I have is that they are courteous and they stick with paying what you want because I want to stay consistent throughout the business," he said.

Sewell said he usually is pedaling passengers around Belleville between 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., but is available 24 hours, seven days a week. You can call him at 203-1090 for a ride.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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