« Window on the world | Main | Too darned hot »

Cruise ship ka-ching

Friday July 13th. I am working the 2pm to 8 pm shift. Lease is $65. Two cruise ships en route south from Alaska are due in between 6 pm and 7 pm, dumping close to 4,500 tourists for four short hours on Victoria's streets.

I've done all my training. I am now eligible to greet the ships.

By 4:30 pm, the top riders are leaving the downtown core, doing the 20 minute ride out to the Ogden Point Terminal to get into position. Early in my shift I've given an Old Town/Chinatown tour and a few taxi rides, but I am still $25 short of making lease. I follow them out,  hoping for a big payout.

Arriving in line
About four cruise ships a week make Victoria a brief Port-of-Call between April and November -- 163 calls are scheduled for 2007. It is down about 20 visits from 2006's high, but still a 300 percent growth from earlier in the decade. This season they will discharge some 324,000 visitors on the city for three to four hours and inject an estimated $28.5 million ($88 per person) into the Victoria economy.

We all want just a tiny little piece of it. 

It is more than 2 hours before the boats arrive but already the terminal's large parking lot is packed - more than 30 tour buses from various competing companies, a half-dozen stretch limos, a dozen 8-passenger touring vans, six or seven taxis, four shiny convertable classic cars with signs "Hire me to tour Victoria." Soon the horse-drawn Tally-Ho trolleys arrive and get into position. The heavy horses snort and stamp their feet,  harness bells jangling.

Everyone stands around and talks, eyeing the horizon for the first sign of the sun glinting off the ships' gleaming exteriors.

We are like a Third World port waiting and waiting for the chance to hawk our brand of beads and trinkets. 

Who's up first?
Only 12 pedicabs are allowed on the lot at a time, eight from Kabuki Kabs and four from the competition, Victoria Pedicab Tours. The two companies alternate spots with first up determined by a coin toss. Randy has to buy permits for each of his eight spots. Numbers are policed by a kind but firm commissionaire. In previous years the pedicab line at the cruise ship terminal ran on a first-come, first-to-sell basis, but that meant riders would start deserting the downtown core at earlier and earlier times, vying for a good spot in the line up. This year a draw system has been put in place, but now riders are rushing out to ensure their cab number is one of the eight entered in the draw.

A debate breaks out among Kabuki riders about the draw timing - when the lot has the eight riders and is therefore closed or when the cruise ship's docking lines are tossed. Lot full! No, lines down! The draw is made when the lot is full, others grumble "That's not right."

"Call Brent," riders murmur. An emergency cell phone call is made to veteran rider Brent Gleason, a pedicabbing peacemaker, riding for four years, who swoops down into the lot in his tandem cab and tries to sort out the disagreements and impose some fair system.

"I am out of here. This is nuts," say a few veteran riders like Jeeves and Chico who ride off back to the city, planning to pick up their rides once the tourists hit the downtown core.

I am completely confused. I have no idea where I am supposed to be in the line and simply wait to do as I am told. I end up near the back, waiting my turn to get the nod to roll up to the loading zone.

It is about 6:15 pm when the first of the two ships, Holland America's Oosterdam, glinting like a diamond in the sun865312-921432-thumbnail.jpg
Golden Princes pulling in
, silently glides into port -- an 11-story, mammoth hotel complex sidling up to the pier. The Royal Princess's  Golden Princess, even bigger and shinier, soon backs in opposite her. The Golden Princess holds 2,600 passengers and has 15 decks, 17 bars, four pools, nine whirlpools, three dining rooms, five restaurants, a casino, a full theatre, a selection of stores, a paddle ball court, a photostudio, a multimedia teen centre, a fully equipped gym, a Wedding Chapel, a beauty salon and a spa. Why disembark?

The gang planks go down and for more than an hour passengers stream off both ships in a steady flow. They file out into the terminal lot, squinting in the sun, maps in hand, looking around them, trying to choose their options for the next four hours.

The three horse trolleys fill up first and flow out. A "Sold out for today" sandwich board is erected at the carriage loading zone. A $6 shuttle bus to the Inner Harbour also does a brisk business, filling up one after another and driving away. 

We are forbidden from yelling, aggressive solicitation or any untoward behaviour to attract attention to our  services. We all stand there and smile, one hand in the air sedately waving. The first rider up at  the pedicab loading zone can quietly sell the merits of his tour, but only when he fills his cab and rolls out can the next pedicab roll up. But we are not moving. Anxiety increasingly hangs in the air. The young, new driver, first up, is not getting anyone into his cab.  A new grumble goes down the pedicab line. "He can't sell!" All our income is dependant on the line moving briskly -- and the salesmanship skills of the riders in front of us.

Brent and another veteran driver jump in to help close deals. Their words do wonders selling other people's cabs. They start moving people into seats, rolling them off the lot. It is 7:15 by the time I roll up. I have to have the cab back by 8 pm or I am fined a $1 a minute. I won't have time to do a big lucrative tour. "Want me to sell you?" asks Brent. Sure! "Customized to suit your needs, best way to see Victoria in a short time," Brent is saying.

Two middle-aged woman, old friends from South Africa, get into my cab. They want the short form heritage home tour on their way into the Inner Harbour.865312-923123-thumbnail.jpg
Zena and Carole in the Inner Harbour
I will do it in 40 minutes I say. (I have no choice - cab must be returned by 8.) It is the women's first cruise tour and they are loving every minute of it. "The food is amazing," says Zena, who now lives in San Diego.

A strong head wind hits us along the waterfront Dallas Road but when we duck into the quaint James Bay Streets, it is calm and quiet. The women are enchanted by the Queen Anne cottages, Edwardian bungalows, and Italianate villas. "Look at that lovely porch," says Zena who 25 years ago moved to California. "What a stunning garden,' says Carole, her old friend, who still lives outside Johannesberg. I arrive in front of the Empress at 7:55 pm. I snap their photo and they write in my guest book, "Wow! What a ride with Anne on her kabuki kab -- ongoing commentary on the nooks and crannies of Victoria."   I emerge $25 over lease. We part with warm handshakes.

I race back to the barn, arriving five minutes late, but I am not fined. A whole new night shift is coming in, animating the barn. Since I've been riding days, most of the faces I have never seen - attractive fit young men and women, all in their 20s flirting, teasing, and laughing, gearing up to haul Friday-night bar goers between pubs. I am invisible. I complete my cab report, transfer my gear from #1's hold to my panniers, lift my bike off the hanging bike rack and quickly ride home.

Posted on Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 02:29PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Hi Anne:
Fact check: 12 bikes allowed, eight of Randy's and all four of ours. And we get every other spot, one Kabuki, one Victoria Pedicab.
Otherwise, everything I've read checks out.
Oh yeah, I put a feed from your blog to mine so my readers(2500 hits per month) can get added insight into what happens in pedicabland. And I must say, I enjoy your writing a lot. Take care and be safe.
July 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTerrence Wiens
Looking to hire a pedicab for a day on May 14. To meet at a prearranged place to escort 3 adults around the best places in Victoria. They will be on the Royal Carib. Rhapsody of the Seas docking at 9 am. The ship departs at 6 pm. so they will need to be back on the ship around 4pm. Can you help me find someone willing to do this.
March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly Rushing

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.