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A Business Improvement Story:

Pedicabs designed to counter Chinatown critics

By Cheryl Rossi

Reprinted with permission from Vancouver Courier
Published Wednesday, July 08, 2009

PedicabsRed pedicabs are ferrying passengers from the Canada Place Vancouver cruise ship terminal to Gastown and Chinatown in attempt to leave tourists dazzled by history and unconcerned about their safety in a neighbourhood criticized by travel guides.

Albert Fok, president of the Chinatown Business Improvement Association Society (BIA), which is operating the Dragon Rickshaw Adventures pedicabs, says its members hope the pedicabs will appeal to former residents of Hong Kong who have fond memories of riding pedicabs in Macau in the 1970s and ’80s. They also hope the ride is popular with visitors seeking an environmentally friendly personal tour.

The final pedicab route will carry passengers along Water Street, up the Carrall Street Greenway and along Pender Street. Construction and stopping restrictions mean the current routes are temporary.

“There might be some optical challenges along the way, but I don’t think that’s a big issue,” Fok said.

Travel guidebooks have been critical about the Chinatown and Gastown areas, and business owners there want to make sure tourists leave with a good impression, says Andrew McKay of Building Opportunities for Business, or BOB. The rickshaw guides will point out the site of a former opium den, the world’s thinnest building and a good place to grab lunch.

But Fok doesn’t believe tourists are staying away from Chinatown.

“Unfortunately that was true six or seven years ago,” he said. “We’re actually seeing quite a comeback.”

BOB, a non-profit that aims to support local business development and increase job opportunities for inner city residents, connected the BIA with a consultant, financial backers and a $10,000 grant from Western Economic Diversification Canada.
The Vancouver Agreement, with money provided by Bell Canada in association with its sponsorship of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, contributed $35,000 to the project with $25,000 available as it develops.

Diamond Liu, executive manager of the BIA, says the society expects setup and operations will cost $120,000 this year, so the pedicabs need to bring in a profit of $60,000 or the BIA will be on the hook for the additional costs.

Three of the eight guides hired to cycle around Gastown and Chinatown are from the inner city, defined as the area between Cambie and Clark, Burrard Inlet and Broadway by BOB.

The non-profit would prefer more of the guides to be inner city residents, but some of those recruited weren’t healthy enough or reliable.

McKay said BOB will continue to help the BIA find employees from the area. The income of the guides will vary with the number and duration of trips and tips. They will charge customers $1 a minute and operate between 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

They’ll offer customers a 30- to 45-minute tour of Chinatown and another of Gastown, but they can ferry passengers throughout downtown and Strathcona. Canopies can shield patrons in the rain.

In 2008, The Vancouver Agreement provided funding to support the development of Rickshaw Adventures, a self-sustaining business operated by the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association Society designed to stimulate business activity in Chinatown and Gastown.

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