SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Vincent Ortiz sits at a red light at the intersection of 35th and Broadway in Oak Park. His two grandchildren sit behind him as cars pull up next to them. Drivers and their passengers curiously look at Ortiz’s ride. It’s white with three wheels and no doors. Instead of taking his foot off of the brake and hitting the gas when the light turns green, he begins peddling.
Ortiz makes his way across the busy intersection in his electric pedicab. The words on the back of it read: OrtizPedicabs.com (916) 254-3139.
“I didn’t invent it… but I helped make it better.”
Ortiz, 60, got his business license in August 2018 and started renting his fleet of electric pedicabs earlier this year. He said he’s wanted to start an electric pedicab business for the last two years.
“My passion is in this right here,” Ortiz said. “I’ve always ridden bikes. I love bikes, and I want people to experience the open air feeling...it’s a mood booster.”
Ortiz uses the skills he learned as an aviation structural mechanic in the United States Marine Corps., and as a can line mechanic for Campbell Soup Supply Company to do all of the maintenance on his 10 pedicabs.
“These came with no instructions. No manual. Nothing. It’s been trial and error, but I got it,” he said.
Ortiz found the pedicabs online and spoke to the vendor for a couple of months. He then traveled to China where he stayed for over a month as he prepared to ship them back to the U.S.
“I went over there. I drove them. I worked with the pedicab technicians over there, and I made some modifications,” Ortiz said. “I had them add five inches of tubing. I had them add the LED lights. They were my contributions. I didn’t invent it. I didn’t make it, but I helped make it better.”
He invested money he earned from flipping houses into his new business venture. The pedicabs traveled from Shanghai to Oakland to Ortiz’s front door.
“It was a shock to find out it was a 25 percent tariff increase,” Ortiz said. “My $40,000 investment went to $50,000 real quick. And then having to hire a customs agent. But I know it all now.”
“Everybody who goes out on these comes back with a smile.”
Ortiz grew up in Oak Park and reminisced on running up and down the streets, playing hide-and-seek into the wee hours of the night.
“When I grew up here, they said this was the worst neighborhood in Sacramento to live,” Ortiz said. “I never felt threatened. Oak Park has a lot of history. It has a lot of beautiful homes. It’s come a long way.”
He choked back tears as he talked about “old” Oak Park compared to “new” Oak Park and why he decided to start his business in his old neighborhood.
“I get emotional because of the change in Oak Park. I know some people feel displaced,” Ortiz said. “This is where my business belongs. I wanted a minority business in Oak Park to thrive and I wanted to make it reasonable...so that everybody can experience it.”
Ortiz Pedicab Services operates out of 6 Day Tires & Wheels in Oak Park. Customers can rent one of the pedicabs for up to three hours at $15 an hour with a valid California driver’s license. The 10-foot-3-inches long pedicabs go 15 mph, at max speed. They are equipped with 500-watt electric motors with pedal-assist.
“Ride in the bike lane. If you run out of bike lane, you stay to the right of the street,” Ortiz said. “And common sense, you use your side mirrors…you have horns, you have blinkers.”
The pedicabs carry one cyclist, or operator, and two passengers. Renters must be responsible while operating the pedicabs.
“No drinking. No drugs. No medications at all,” Ortiz said. “I just ask people to respect my business and the pedicabs. By doing that, you’ll not be hotdogging and you protect the public.”
Ortiz said he just wants everybody to have fun. He said riders become spectacles at night when the LED lights come on.
“It glows like a spaceship. Everybody who goes out on these comes back with a smile,” Ortiz said.
With the growing popularity of JUMP bikes and scooters in Sacramento, it’s become easier to rent short-term transportation. But Ortiz said there is no competition.
“It’s just better than JUMP Bikes. And it’s just as affordable,” Ortiz said. “This is a better, nicer, more comfortable and more intimate experience.”
Ortiz said he expects to earn back the money he invested into the business by the end of the year. He said he’ll take those profits and put it right back into the business and buy five more electric pedicabs.
“Once I start doing that, then I’ll have the money to go anywhere, but I want to stay here in Oak Park,” Ortiz said. “My heart is here in Oak Park. I think this is the perfect spot for it.”
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