Chief’s Chariot Pedicab Co. brings rickshaw to campus

It’s around 9 p.m., and it’s time for Chris Skopec, senior in ACES, to get going. Pretty soon, the students of the University are going to have somewhere to go, and they’re going to need something to get them there.

Skopec operates Chief’s Chariot Pedicab Company, the only business in town that uses bicycle-driven rickshaws to get people from point A to point B. The alternative to walking — joining the ranks of taxicabs, buses and SafeRides — has been well-received by the campus since it first took to the streets during Welcome Week, Skopec said.

“I think people really enjoy the idea of going somewhere in an alternative way,” he said. “People really enjoy the experience. It’s something new, it’s something that’s never been done in Champaign, and I think people have really grasped onto that.”

Chief’s Chariot doesn’t charge for its service; riders pay tips, generally between three and four dollars per person.

“It’s cheaper than a cab,” Skopec said. “It’s way, way, way more fun. And when you roll up to the door, you’re not rolling up in a cab. You’re rolling up in your chariot — your own throne.”

Environmental issues, or even just sheer revenue, aren’t the main reasons for Skopec’s business.

“I like to make sure each person, when they get on the cab, they leave with a smile,” Skopec said. “It’s not just getting to where you want to be — it’s enjoying getting there.”

One of the first fares the pedicab took on Saturday night was no exception. Four girls excitedly called out to Jordan Frahm, a sophomore in LAS and that night’s driver for Chariot, when he passed them.

Their destination? Fire Station, a mere fifty or so yards from where they were standing. Nonetheless, they all hopped onto the cab with unbridled glee, and were taken on a fairly indirect route that highlighted some of the campus’ more scenic neighborhoods.

Tia Puetz, a junior in Nursing, took to chanting “I-L-L” with her friends while passing through the Quad on that post-football night out. She said she preferred the exposure the pedicab offered.

“People can see you… you’re able to interact with all the pedestrians on the street,” Puetz said. “It is so much better than walking.”

“It’s like being royalty,” said customer Scott Padolina, senior in LAS, from inside the cab.

Skopec also enjoys the people he meets along the way. Once, a single rider — a male senior — called for a rickshaw and proceeded to make wolf howls the whole way home.

“You meet a lot of people, but when you meet the people that really, really enjoy it, that’s when it all clicks,” Skopec said.

Skopec’s open to the idea of expanding his pedicab business. Already, he’s made a hire, though unexpectedly. Frahm ran up to Skopec one early Saturday morning and inquired about driving. He called three times the very next day.

“It was blind luck, completely blind luck, that I got the job,” Frahm said. “I’ve never done a bike race or a triathlon or anything like that, I’m not the most physically fit person in the world, but… it’s not as hard as it looks.”

While certainly no easy, both of the drivers admitted that six-hour shifts of towing people around on a bicycle can take its toll.

“For the first two weeks, I was sore, nonstop,” Skopec said. “You don’t think we have hills here, until you’re actually on this pedicab.”

Even the slightest elevation changes are amplified when hauling as many as six people behind oneself, an aspect that has made itself abundantly clear to Skopec.

Law enforcement has also been receptive to Skopec’s business. Aside from reminding him to be safe, police have also expressed excitement about the pedicab.

“I’ve gotten three or four business cards from cops,” Skopec said. “Their big thing was, someone could go out on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night and get wasted and cause them trouble, but … this is something new.”

Though it’s his last year on campus, Skopec hopes his new business will continue serving the campus after he graduates.

“My goal isn’t to make a ton of money,” Skopec said. “At the end of the year, I want a company that I’ve created, a company that is uniquely mine, a company I can be proud of and at the end of the year, pass down to an underclassman to continue it for the rest of their career.”