Pedicabs are coming to Nantucket this summer.
On a narrow 3-2 vote last week, the Select Board endorsed a pilot program to allow two pedicabs to operate around a limited area of the core downtown district.
If all goes according to plan, Michael Gormley, who first proposed the pedicab operation earlier this year, will begin running “NanTukTuk” within the next two weeks.
“I’m over the moon,” said Gormley, 24, a New Hampshire native who grew up visiting Nantucket. “I’m hugely excited and eager to get out there. It’s really important to me that I’m an active and positive member of the community. I want this to be a collaboration with Nantucketers.”
Gormley’s excitement stems in part from the fact that as recently as April his plan to launch NanTukTuk on the island appeared to be going nowhere. During his first pitch to the Select Board, its members expressed reservations and doubts that it could be brought to fruition in 2023. They ultimately punted the concept for review to the Traffic Safety Work Group (TSWG), the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), and the town’s transportation program manager Mike Burns.
Last Wednesday, the Select Board discovered that the two advisory groups were actually split on the proposal, with the TWSG taking no action, and BPAC recommending a pilot program with two pedicabs in operation for the summer. It stipulated that the operation should include pedicab units with pedal-assist electric motors but be limited to traveling no faster than 15 mph. The advisory committee also suggested expanding the pedicab service area to include portions of Pleasant Street, Union Street, Washington Street, Sparks Avenue, and Orange Street from the core area to the mid-island area and not within or beyond the Milestone Rotary.
That recommendation was ultimately approved last Wednesday on a split 3-2 vote. Select Board chair Dawn Hill Holdgate was joined by Matt Fee and Malcolm MacNab in voting in favor of the pilot program, while Tom Dixon and Brooke Mohr dissented.
“You’re a brave man,” Fee told Gormley at the meeting. “It’s mayhem out there and it’s very dangerous.”
Pedicabs are a common mode of transportation in many major cities and tourist destinations - but not on Nantucket. Despite town regulations that were adopted by the Select Board more than 10 years ago to license and govern the operation of pedicabs on the island, no one has stepped forward with a viable plan to implement them on Nantucket.
Gormley, who already operates a pilot pedicab operation in Portsmouth, NH, says he is aware that there are already concerns that pedicabs would add to the summer gridlock on Nantucket. To those critics, he counters with the fact that pedicabs are roughly half the dimensions of a car, and will be able to maneuver the island’s narrow streets and cobblestones more effectively. Plus, he added, the pilot program is just that: a test of the operation in which he will have to prove its effectiveness, safety, and its impact on existing traffic patterns.
“I thought a gentle introduction was the most considerate way to go about it,” Gormley said.
To start, NanTukTuk will operate with a fare system that is solely gratuity-based, meaning users will get to pay Gormley and his staff as much or as little as they want for a ride on one of their pedicabs.
“That works really well,” Gormley said of the fares being initially gratuity based. “In Portsmouth, 80 percent of the people pay what I would charge if not more. It more than compensates for the 20 percent of people who underpay or don’t pay at all.”
Gormley will soon have a phone number, e-mail, and website, that customers will be able to use to call for a pedicab.
The bylaw adopted by the town in July 2011 governing the licensing of pedicabs on Nantucket also set strict limits on where they could be operated. The small portion of the downtown area and the cliff is bound by Main Street to the south, and New Lane and North Liberty Street to the west. That area will be expanded per the BPAC recommendation.