Next time students need a quick lift across campus — or a reason to slow down and relax — keep an eye out for Todd Miner and his pedicab business Vamos! Lion Chariot.
Founder of Vamos! LC, Miner began powering his three-wheeled pedicab through Penn State and the State College area last April, and has since found himself having as much fun as his patrons do.
Miner summarized his business with a simple comparison.
“Those cars and busses you see, that’s called transportation,” Miner said. “With Vamos! Lion Chariot, we call it ‘transportainment.’ ”
Vamos! LC backs up its claim by offering music options during the ride, via a built in sound system, as well as a knowledgeable and friendly driver who knows the area well, and also the chance for customers to slow down and enjoy the sights and sounds of Happy Valley.
Miner is a graduate of Penn State with a degree in meteorology. He got the idea for a pedicab business when he saw the concept implemented during his time in San Diego in 2010.
“Wow, isn’t that cool!” Miner recalled. “It’s eco-friendly, great exercise and it looks like fun spending time outside and meeting new people.”
Miner said the grant money funding his job with Penn State ended in 2009, and he had two options: re-enter the meteorology job market or stop and explore the opportunities.
He chose the latter, and with the inspiration he found in San Diego, he brought the pedicab business to State College.
“Just as one door closes, another one opens,” Miner said. “Look at life’s setbacks as an opportunity.”
Miner said that between the time he spent as a student at Penn State and also his work as a staff member, he wanted to remain in the area and do something positive for the community, while also earning a living.
Lauren White and Megan Selfe are two students who took a ride down Pollock Road on Vamos! LC to get to their class, and they were delighted with the service they received.
“Vamos! Todd was awesome,” White (sophomore-elementary education) said. “He was really talkative and friendly to us, which made the ride really great.”
White added that, “classes are stressful enough, so having a little break like this was fun.”
Selfe (sophomore-elementary education and human development and family studies) said, “It was very comfy, and the music was just very relaxing.”
White and Selfe both said they would “definitely” ride along again, and they agreed they would seek out Vamos! LC in the future.
Miner said that the business operates primarily on a gratuity basis for the time being.
“We are in the process of transitioning to a fare-based system, but would like to keep some of our rides as tip-only as long as our passengers remain generous,” Miner said.
Riders have the option to leave tips in a small basket mounted directly above the safety regulations within the chariot. Tips are accepted as cash, but drivers also carry a credit card processor for on-the-go payments. Miner emphasized the fact that if he did not have bills to pay, he would be happy to provide this service free of charge at all times.
Before the bike gets moving, customers are immediately made aware of the importance of safety. Not only are the safety guidelines posted, but the driver also reminds passengers to utilize the installed seatbelt and to always enter and exit towards the sidewalk. Among other “rules,” customers are reminded that nothing but smiles and kind gestures can be emitted from the vehicle while in motion.
Safety from the driver’s end is equally as important. The pedicab obeys all normal traffic laws on the roadway and is equipped with both front and rear lights to stand out while traveling.
The bike was purchased from an Arizona-based company called “Pedillac,” an apparent spin on the carmaker Cadillac. The bike was shipped fully assembled, and Miner said one of the selling points during the purchase was the built in speaker system with an iPod connection.
The name for Vamos! LC was derived from a few simple aspects. Miner spent time in Puerto Rico and said his interest in the Spanish language helped him decide on “Vamos!” which is Spanish for “let’s go!” In Miner’s words, the phrase is just as much fun to shout out as it is fitting for what the business does.
The “Lion Chariot” name has its clear connection to the Nittany Lions, and the term chariot fits how one should feel while on board.
Vamos! LC can be seen on campus at various hours of the day, including late-night on the weekends. The business has a handful of drivers who keep the wheels running as often as possible.
The operating routes are primarily around campus, downtown State College, and the neighborhood located south of Beaver Avenue. Miner directed customers to the website VamosLion.com for a full explanation of the service routes.
One of the more challenging aspects the drivers of Vamos! LC face is climbing the steep hills. Miner explained that the bike has a small electric-assist motor that helps take the edge off of a steep climb, but was adamant with the fact that human-power is the primary driving force.
Vamos! LC serves as more than an alternative to a taxi. Miner said services for birthdays, date-night rides, and touring rides can be accommodated by appointment or, if available, on the fly.
Birthday rides feature balloons and a serenaded “happy birthday” from a local entertainer, while date rides can be scheduled with roses and chocolates for the lady, according to Miner.
One can also schedule services to be brought to Beaver Stadium on game days, which Miner noted as one of the more popular features.
Miner said the business started without any outside financial support, however he noted help he received from former colleagues, Penn State students, and also the Small Business Development Center at Penn state.
The SBDC at Penn State is one of 18 centers located throughout Pennsylvania. The center provides free and confidential consultation for entrepreneurs and small business startups, according to Education Program Coordinator Laurie Linton.
Linton also said the center helps existing small businesses and pre-ventures and operates under the slogan, “Helping businesses start, grow, and prosper.”
Miner said, “With help from the excellent staff at the SBDC, I created a workable business plan and finally last spring took the proverbial plunge and bought a pedicab and said ‘Vamos!’ ”
One aspect of the business model for running a pedicab service is acquiring sponsorships. Miner is hopeful to soon display sponsors from local businesses in the form of signage, hats, t-shirts, give-aways for the riders, and verbal recommendations from the driver.
Miner said there are plans in place for the expansion of Vamos! LC.
“We are in the process of bringing on two additional carts, with a goal of having all three whizzing around on the roadways in the not-too-distant future,” Miner said.
Miner said that Vamos! LC hopes to make Happy Valley a little happier by operating under its two key mottoes: “Giving Happy Valley reason to smile,” and, “Making the trip more fun than the destination.”