Taking a ride on South Waterfront’s new electric pedicab shuttle

“It’s a lot more agile than the gas-powered bus was.”

-Kiel Johnson, Go By Bike

The area surrounding the entrance to the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) tram in Portland’s South Waterfront contains a wealth of transportation options unlike anywhere else in the city. Not only can you spot TriMet buses, streetcars and MAX light rail, but the area is also home to the continent’s largest bike valet, an aerial tram — and now, a free pedicab.

Yesterday afternoon I rode over to the Go By Bike headquarters where the pedicab is stationed to check out the scene.

“Free pedicab rides!” Nic Lawton, one of the pedicab operators, called out to anyone passing by. It was surprisingly hard to find takers. Perhaps OHSU’s medical staff and students didn’t feel whimsical enough to ride in a pedicab after a long day at the hospital. Or maybe they just don’t know it’s now an official, OHSU-endorsed part of the South Waterfront’s transportation system.

“I feel like I’m in that Portlandia sketch,” Lawton told me. (If you haven’t seen the Portlandia scene where Fred Armisen tries relentlessly to get people walking in downtown Portland to ride in his pedicab, you should to watch it.)

Taking a break under the Portland Aerial Tram.

“I think my favorite thing happened yesterday. I could hear two adults in the back just giggling.”

– Nic Lawton, pedicab operator

But Lawton remained optimistic and kept a smile on his face. After all, he is working as a pedicab operator for a living. Having just moved here from the Bay Area in August, he’s now essentially embodies the dream of getting paid to do something unique and quintessentially Portland.

Pedicabs aren’t just charming, though — they serve a real purpose, especially when they’re electric. This particular Rad Power pedicab has been instrumental for many purposes since entrepreneur, advocate and Go By Bike valet founder Kiel Johnson (whom you might recall from our video of his 10th anniversary) procured it earlier this year. During my big bike move in August, Johnson carried all my boxes of books in the cab. He’s also taken Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty for a spin in the pedicab and recently used it to chauffeur a couple at their wedding.

And now, the pedicab is replacing the former gas-powered shuttle that used to take people from the aerial tram base to the OHSU Schnitzer parking lot half a mile away.

“It’s a lot more agile than the gas-powered bus was, and we’re able to turn around a lot quicker,” Johnson told me while Lawton rolled us around in the pedicab. “Now that we have this new technology with electric bikes, it’s interesting to think about how we can integrate it into the existing transportation system. What kinds of innovations can we do? That’s been the whole point of Go By Bike.”

When I talked to OHSU’s transportation director Brett Dodson back in the spring, he said the pedicab will help further reduce the institution’s carbon footprint and encourage people to use alternative modes of transportation.

“Anything that will assist someone with not having to use a single occupancy vehicle to get to campus is good,” Dodson said.

Although OHSU personnel are still getting used to the pedicab, Lawton said those who have taken the opportunity to get carted in the pedicab have really enjoyed it.

“I think my favorite thing happened yesterday. I could hear two adults in the back just giggling,” he said. “One of them said, ‘sorry, I can’t stop giggling!’ I was like, ‘no, I love it.'”

While we waited for more clientele, I theorized with Lawton about a potential meet cute between two stressed out doctors who get on the pedicab together during a holiday rainstorm. Over the course of the ride, the doctors get to experience childlike joy again and subsequently fall in love. (What do you think, should I pitch it to the Hallmark channel?)

Even if nobody falls in love in the backseat of the pedicab, it’s still a very cool addition to Portland’s transportation network. This is also the first pedicab to operate in Portland for quite some time— perhaps it will mark a renaissance for the mode of transportation?

The pedicab is free to all with an OHSU badge and operates during morning and afternoon rush hour. Find out more at the Go By Bike website.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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Kiel Johnson / Go By Bike

Very excited to be testing out this new sustainable way to get around. We just started last week and look forward to inviting BikePortland back in a few months to see how things are going.