A lot of entrepreneurs launch a business to fulfill a dream. Some, however, go a step further, using their original startup as a steppingstone to bigger things. Felicia Thurman of Asheville fits squarely in the latter category.
The 23-year-old owns Your Chariot Awaits LLC, which plans to begin operating a pedicab service in early May. City Council recently granted Thurman a franchise to operate five of the three-wheeled, pedal-powered taxis within downtown, the River Arts District and the Montford Historic District.
At the March 11 meeting, Council member Bill Russell enthusiastically supported the idea, along with every other Council member and city Transportation and Engineering Director Cathy Ball. “I definitely think it would add to the Asheville flavor,” noted Russell. The city, says Thurman, “was excited about the service from the get-go.”
Thurman is too. But the business, she adds, will do more than just give people a new experience in an environmentally sound way. For Thurman, it’s a step toward financing her ultimate dream: owning and operating an Asheville bed-and-breakfast.
“I realized that saving up to buy a bed-and-breakfast would probably take me until I’m about 40 or 50,” says Thurman, who moved here from Virginia Beach in 2006 and also holds down a job in human resources. “I needed another small business to run and to allow me to save enough money, because it’s still my passion in the end.”
Restaurants and coffee shops were out of the question, she says. A used bookstore would eventually bore her. At some point, she just gave up trying to find a suitable business to start. But during a weekend trip with girlfriends to Charleston, S.C., she saw pedicabs in action. And after returning home and going out on the town with friends a couple of weeks later, the idea hit her.
“As soon as we left Hannah Flanagan’s, we all took our high heels off, put on some flip-flops and hiked it all the way to the Whiskey Tavern,” she says. “And I said: ‘This is ridiculous. Why don’t we have pedicabs here in Asheville?’ And that’s when it hit me: This was the business for me to start. Then I became quite passionate about it.”
The service, argues Thurman, is perfect for a place like Asheville—notwithstanding the hilly terrain.
“Basically it’s an economical and environmentally friendly transportation service, a safe transportation service,” she says. It should prove convenient for bus riders whose destinations aren’t adequately served by public transit, not to mention providing quick access to places where parking is at a premium or simply nonexistent. At the same time, it will provide yet another fun and unusual downtown experience for residents and tourists alike, notes Thurman, adding that she’ll probably offer pedicab tours as well once the business is firmly established. She’s also considering placing advertising on the pedicabs in the future to create another profit center for the business.
Fares for the service haven’t been established yet, but Thurman says they’ll probably start at $2.50 per person per one-way trip. The pedicabs are designed to carry two to three people comfortably, she says.
The service will run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends. City Council restricted the allowable hours of operation to avoid peak commuting periods. In addition, the pedicabs are barred from streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or higher, as well as within the boundaries of street festivals such as Bele Chere.
The pedicabs, which are also equipped with electric motors to provide a boost when needed, can reach speeds of 12 mph, says Thurman, who expects to begin hiring drivers soon.
“What we’re looking for … is someone with a moderate degree of physical fitness, because you can’t deny that downtown is very hilly,” she says, adding, “The drivers do endure a couple hours of intense cardio on each shift.” Potential drivers are already showing interest, says Thurman, and in a bike-crazy town such as Asheville, she doesn’t expect much difficulty finding qualified people.
To learn more about the business or to inquire about a job, e-mail Thurman at email@example.com.