we've got options: alternative transportation takes root in cleveland

There's more than one way to get around Cleveland, and increasingly, the options are getting better. We left the car at home to give the city's latest crop of alternative transportation options a test drive.
Ride On Cleveland Pedicabs
On any given night of the week, Don Dominic -- or one of the six other cyclists in his fleet -- can be found ready, willing and able to pedal downtown pedestrians to their destinations. Since founding Ride On Cleveland Pedicabs in 2011, Dominic and his team have been contributing to the rising number of clean, quiet bike taxi services that are popping up in major metros around the country.
“A downtown that people feel comfortable walking around and getting places without having to rely on a car and parking lot situation is a downtown that I think is valuable for everybody,” says Dominic.
Staking claim to the vibrant E. 4th Street as its home base means that users of the local pedicab service enjoy quick access to some of the city’s best dining and entertainment options. After grabbing a bite and drinks at the Greenhouse Tavern, this writer quickly spotted Patrick Stanton, a pedicab cyclist going on his second year with the company. Within 10 minutes, our small group was swiftly delivered to Progressive Field in time for the Cleveland Indians game. Cost: approximately $12 with tip.
"I grew up skateboarding, so I really started to learn my way around the city,” explains Stanton as he glides through an alleyway en route to the stadium. “By doing this, I’ve been able to see how Cleveland, especially downtown, has been growing, and it’s so great to watch that happen.”
That is something Ride On Cleveland Pedicabs’ cyclists seem to have in common: knowing the city inside and out. Traveling along lesser-known back roads as much as main thoroughfares, the pedicab pilots are equal parts tour guide and cabbie.
“It gets you a little more connected to what’s going on around you rather than just thinking I’m at point A and need to get to point B and I don’t care what happens in between,” Dominic explains. “There’s a lot to see in the middle.”
Ride-sharing Ride sharing is all the rage, it seems, employing technology to make urban commuting more user-friendly. San Francisco-born Uber, along with rival service Lyft, is app-driven, which means all it takes is a few screen taps to pinpoint a user’s current location and connect them with a nearby chauffer. As soon as a driver accepts the call, the user is notified with the driver’s name, car make and model, and even a passenger-sourced rating. From there, the app tracks exactly where the car is so you can monitor its precise arrival time. Both apps are credit card only, eliminating any handling of cash.
While Uber and Lyft’s platforms are similar, there are more than a few differences. Around town, Uber has seniority -- the service began operating in Cleveland in early April, a full two days before its competitor. Within the app, passengers are presented with two options: Uber Black, which employs cars piloted by hired limo drivers, or uberX, a more budget-friendly ride in the drivers’ own vehicles.
Uber Black is the sleek, dark and handsome alternative to bland yellow taxis or too-casual pedicabs. When traveling with friends between dinner in Little Italy and Cleveland Museum of Art’s monthly MIX bash, the Uber Black option is the way to go. A Lincoln Town Car with high-grade interior is piloted by a driver dressed to the nines, who not only delivers his charges front and center at our destination, but also opens the doors for a grand entrance. All this without going over the $12 minimum.
Though competitor Lyft has masterfully carved out a niche as quirky and personable, Uber Black sets the standard for business meetings and date nights.
“Do you want to sit up front?” asks Brian Sminchak as I climb into his SUV for a ride. I'm off to Bal Ingenieux, an annual steampunk-meets-vaudeville masquerade party, so it seems fittingly kitsch to arrive by way of a ride-sharing service that embellishes each of its cars with an oversized pink fuzzy mustache. An IT worker by day, Sminchak only has been on the Lyft beat for two days, a role he plans to make a weekend routine to earn a little extra cash.
Lyft, also based out of San Francisco, thrives on offbeat sensibilities. Like Sminchak, drivers are encouraged to invite their passengers to sit up front and strike up a conversation. Because all drivers utilize their personal cars, each new Lyft ride is charmingly unpredictable. While all cars meet company quality standards, it’s very likely that a passenger will be picked up in a different make and model every ride. Lyft drivers log in whenever they’re free, making for a flexible source of side income for them, though they are required to accept a high percentage of requests to make the program fair for riders.
Due to the freestyle nature of Lyft’s scheduling, riders are unable to arrange a pickup from a specific person, though customers are beginning to recognize some favorite drivers. Marjorie, a driver who prefers not to share her last name, doesn’t mind the company. In fact, she often picks up the same Little Italy resident who enjoys her friendly conversation for a spin around the neighborhood. A recent transplant from Massachusetts, Marjorie has found Lyft not only to be a great temporary gig while searching for a job, but also a way to make acquaintances in a new city.
Programming the GPS on her metallic cobalt blue Ford Focus -- a vehicle just bubbly enough to match its driver's personality -- Marjorie says, "I picked out this color car knowing it would have a cotton candy pink mustache on the front.”
Present and Future
Just as pedicabs and ride-sharing services are helping to foster a more environmentally friendly transport system, the hybrid-fitted RTA HealthLine zips riders along Euclid Avenue in green efficiency. Use the service to zip from downtown to University Circle for a Cleveland Orchestra performance, or vice-versa. The HealthLine is nicely complemented by RTA’s Trolleys, a free service that loops through downtown.
As transport options continue to expand, it’s no longer about just sharing the road. A revived water taxi service that will connect the east and west banks of the Flats is slated for development in the coming year to better tap into the vast potential of Cleveland’s waterfront.
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