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Bad News for Rickshaw Riders in Missoula

Photo courtesy of gabriel amadeus/Flickr

When I heard the news that Missoula’s rickshaw outfit — you know, the little bike carriages that cart people from bar to bar — would be downsizing its downtown fleet this summer, I was a little saddened.

Over the course of the last several years, rickshaws have become a defining presence in downtown Missoula. It’s one of the little things that make our city so quirky and unique.

According to a report in the Missoula Independent, the local rickshaw company plans to cut down from 20 drivers to five for the upcoming summer season, which means rickshaw sightings will be few and far between.

Maybe it’s just a sign of the times. Businesses everywhere are scaling back in response to a slow economy. But even in a down market, I really think Missoula’s rickshaw business could thrive with a few tweaks.

For instance, I have only used the rickshaws on a handful of occasions — all due to inclement weather. (Actually, one was due to a combination of inclement weather and a weird drunk guy.) But since the bikes only operate during the summer months, warm, dry nights probably keep a lot of people from hitching a ride. Those are the nights that I don’t mind walking five blocks. In fact, I actually kind of enjoy it.

But if they could figure out a way to operate the rickshaws during colder months, I would be willing to pay good money to reduce the amount of time I spend shivering between bars. I would also be more grateful for the ride, which means I would probably leave a bigger tip.

And speaking of tips — under the current pricing model, there is no flat fee for a ride, regardless of the distance. Customers decide how much to pay their driver, and in a town with a lot of cheap college students, that amount probably isn’t always fair. I’m no business guru, but I think that with a set pricing system, the company might not feel as much of a financial pinch.

Whatever happens, I hope the rickshaws don’t go away for good. You never know when you’re going to need a quick escape from a weird drunk guy.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.

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