The late-night scene in downtown Columbia is rife with opportunity for the determined entrepreneur, and last summer Michael Weinstein took his shot. The University of Missouri senior finance student put some muscle into his business idea and founded Zou Cab, a pedicab service that takes customers to and from The District, within Zou Cab’s service territory.
“We say we don’t go south of Stadium Boulevard, north of Wilkes Boulevard, east of Old 63 and west of Providence Road,” Weinstein says, “but everything is negotiable!”
Weinstein found inspiration for Zou Cab in his hometown of Austin, Texas, where according to Forbes magazine, there are more than 400 registered pedicabbies. “Pedicabs are a huge part of how people get around the entertainment districts — Dirty Sixth, Rainey Street, West Sixth — and I thought they were a cool and fun way of getting around,” he says.
Weinstein thought pedicabs would be well-received by what he calls a “vibrant downtown” in CoMo. It isn’t a foreign concept to Columbia. Eight years ago, Shakespeare’s Pizza used a pedicab to deliver pizzas; it eventually became a downtown transportation service, but over the years it stopped running. Weinstein connected with Columbian Jon Beahan, who had purchased a number of three-wheeled pedicabs for football game days from Main Street Pedicabs of Denver two years ago. Weinstein currently rents two bikes per season, painted gold by Beahan and equipped with a bicycle bell, brake lights and turn signals.
Last June, Weinstein acquired a Columbia business license for Zou Cab. The setup process with the city was very simple, he says. “It was honestly really easy and painless, and a great testament to the entrepreneurial culture of Columbia.”
Most cities with pedicabs — New York, Austin, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco — require pedicabbies to have chauffeur licenses. But because pedicabs don’t have motors, Weinstein only needed a business license in Columbia. He believes the ease with which he was able to start Zou Cab here is part of the reason Columbia has seen so many new businesses opening recently.
Weinstein doesn’t do all of the pedaling himself. During his peak season (June through November), Zou Cab employs seven drivers, each working about one shift a week. Weinstein found most of his drivers through friends, Craigslist and HireMizzouTigers.com. Others he found by pedaling his pedicab around downtown and attracting interest. Eventually, the number of applicants grew to the point where Weinstein could be selective about who he hires.
“The beauty of my business model is that drivers are considered independent contractors, so anyone can determine when they work, and for how long,” Weinstein says. “Most go from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., Thursday through Saturday.”
A Zou Cab trip costs $3 per customer, plus tip. Weinstein says each pedicab has about 10 to 15 fares a night. It’s hard work hauling customers around downtown Columbia — with tow weights reaching an estimated 1,150 pounds of combined weight.
“I had some friends in Austin who rode for some of the pedicab businesses, but I’d never operated or driven one before starting up Zou Cab,” Weinstein says. “It is definitely harder than it looks.”
The customers are easier to come by, he says. “The typical customer walks out of a bar with a plan to go home, but sees pedicabs as a fun and entertaining alternative,” he says.
The service is also popular for transporting customers from one nightspot to the next, Weinstein says. Business really picks up when the bars are closing and people are heading home — between 1 and 2 a.m.
“I’ve had people tell me they think it adds to the vibrancy and culture of downtown Columbia,” he says. “That really is an amazing compliment, and I definitely agree with them.”
On Oct. 4, a Zou Cab was the victim of a hit-and-run accident when Brian Hayes was pedaling a pedicab north on College Avenue and was struck from behind by what Weinstein describes as “a black, late-year Hyundai.”
“The passenger got out to make sure he wasn’t dead and then they sped off,” Weinstein says.
The accident shut down the business for the winter months to get the bike fixed. Weinstein hopes to reopen in the spring.
Not many college seniors run a business of their own while finishing their degree, and while Weinstein has enjoyed his Zou Cab venture, he plans to take a job with a financial services firm after graduation.
“I’ve met tons of awesome people, whether they are Zou Cab drivers, passengers, or business owners,” Weinstein says. “It’s been an awesome experience with managing people, managing my own time, and learning the ins and outs of running a business.”
He won’t lose his entrepreneurial drive when he graduates. Owning and operating Zou Cab has been such a great experience that “hopefully, I can start [another] business of my own at some point down the line,” he says.
Learn more about Columbia’s pedicab service at www.facebook.com/ZOUCAB.
There’s An App For That!
New smartphone applications for transportation services give new meaning to the phrase “call a cab.” Here’s a look at two services available in CoMo.
Alternative transportation network Uber arrived in Columbia in October. The service employs local drivers, who pick up customers upon request via the Uber GPS application. Uber fares run at least 30 percent less than traditional taxi fares; for example, an Uber ride from the University of Missouri campus to the Columbia Mall costs $15. The app allows passengers to pay via their cellphones and split fares on credit cards; there is no tipping.
In November, the city proposed regulations to treat app-based ride-share services more like traditional taxi services. The proposed rules would require Uber to pay a fee based on how many drivers it employs and would mandate that drivers get a permit from the city. Currently, Uber’s only requirements for drivers include passing a background check, showing proof of insurance and providing a driving record. The City Council will consider the proposed ride-share regulations later this winter. In the meantime, Uber drivers who provide rides for hire have been ticketed for operating without a business license.
Learn more at www.uber.com.
App-based Enterprise CarShare offers a cost-effective alternative to car ownership. The car-sharing program (formerly WeCar by Enterprise) is an extension of St. Louis-based Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Customers can reserve a clean, well-maintained vehicle for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer. The service allows companies and government organizations an alternative to reduce fleet costs, offer employees transportation access and meet sustainability goals.
The recently released Enterprise CarShare app allows iPhone and Android users the ability to make or modify reservations, extend rentals and choose pickup locations. The service is available in more than 35 U.S. states and Canada. Users have the option to pay hourly, daily or by overnight. All fees include fuel.
Enterprise CarShare service in Columbia is currently only available to University of Missouri students, faculty and staff. Individual, business and government setups are also available, but do not currently operate in Columbia.
Learn more at www.enterprisecarshare.com.