Clan of the Bike Men

As downtown pedicabbers battle for turf and tips, major operators say city regs would end the mayhem.

Geske says his drivers are the best, too. While others will let just about anyone drive, Geske says he is more particular about who pulls a PedalTek trailer. "My [drivers] are clean, they take showers every day," he says, "which is not something everyone -- including some of the owners -- can say."

Once, not so long ago, Geske says it was Oxford who "had the cream of the crop as far as drivers go." And, in fact, most pedal-cab drivers on the street seem to have ridden for Oxford and subsequently quit riding for Oxford.

"It's the way he treated and treats [drivers]," contends Geske. "He's stern, aggressive and mean."

Gary Geske in his top-secret PedalTek headquarters.
Jackie Mercandetti
Gary Geske in his top-secret PedalTek headquarters.
Billy Oxford is the godfather of pedicabbing in Phoenix.
Jackie Mercandetti
Billy Oxford is the godfather of pedicabbing in Phoenix.

About his drivers, Geske says, "I feel I'm lucky to have them. I treat them decent."

Geske seems intent upon changing the pedicab scene to adapt to his way of doing business. He doesn't want to go with the flow established long ago by Oxford.

Part of that flow is the pedicab lines set up outside events. According to custom, drivers line up as taxicab drivers do at airports, and patrons must go to the driver at the head of the line.

Geske's refusal to have his drivers abide by this rule has caused much dissension on the street.

"The lineup has happened for a long time," Geske says. "It's something Billy O. started. [It's] like a system so he wouldn't have to deal with conflicts mainly from his own [drivers]."

The system that Geske employs is, "If you're in line and somebody asks you for a ride, you take [them]. If they walk up to you, there's a reason."

When money's at stake, Geske doesn't believe in taking turns. He says adhering to the first-in-line custom would be "simply giving your money away to someone else."

While Oxford says he is too busy with maintenance to track down sponsors, Geske is aggressively marketing his business. When he's not in the shop repairing and constructing bikes, he's out on the streets or on the computer recruiting advertisers and trying to obtain exclusivity rights. He pays to be the only pedicab service on the patio at the Arizona Center outside Hooters. His rigs are only a few feet from the other cabs lined up on the sidewalk, but he says any edge can make a difference.

Geske says he is positioning himself to enter into contract with the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale to provide shuttle service in the parking lot of the new arena. The deal has not yet been inked, but if it goes through, it would drastically change his business. Instead of hiring drivers as independent contractors, he would make them salaried employees with benefits.

Operators clamor for the right to exclusively service events; it's the key to making consistent money. Big events like the Phoenix Open golf tournament and the recent NASCAR event at Phoenix International Raceway are especially coveted.

Oxford's company won the right to service the raceway event this year, but Geske is confident he will soon take the gig away from his nemesis.

"Oxford won't have PIR for long," Geske says confidently. "I wouldn't want a guy selling hot dogs who stinks and smells and is selling bad food." It's noted that Oxford isn't selling food, but Geske thinks his point is well taken.

Later, in a more conciliatory mood, Geske says he doesn't wish Oxford harm, although he does wish he'd disappear. "[Oxford's] just another guy out there trying to hang on to what he has. He has his priorities. I have mine."

While police Lieutenant Halstead wants to get more pedicab regulations in place before baseball season begins next March, banning trailers isn't even on Halstead's radar screen.

Despite the occasional accident or traffic violation, Halstead says pedicabs perform an important service. He is quick to praise their presence downtown, calling them "underrated."

"I'm out here for every major event from Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street and Fillmore to almost Lincoln," he says wearily. "There are people with health issues and large groups that have to park several blocks away. Without pedicabs, not only would [patrons] be late, but in certain weather conditions [authorities would] have a lot more medical calls."

He continues, "Say you come here from Chicago in July . . . you're going to be real happy someone's there to give you a ride for six blocks."

Despite their professed animosity toward each other, Halstead reports that both Geske and Oxford have been "very, very willing -- on a daily basis -- to talk about issues."

Halstead would like to start putting numbers on drivers so they can be more easily identified should passengers have a complaint. He would also like to have the words "tips only" printed on the sides of cabs to prevent drivers from quoting fares.

Currently, pedal cabs are considered a form of entertainment. Quoting fares is against the law because it would subject drivers to taxi regulations. For instance, the fare privilege would force them to install meters in their rigs.

Owners say what's really needed is licensing, safety inspections and mandatory insurance to protect the public.

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