By Timothy Bolger
Those visiting Robert Moses State Park or traveling the west end of Burma Road have likely spotted one of the area’s newest companies making a buzz on the beach: Fire Island Pedicabs, a tricycle taxi that recently started giving passengers pedal- powered rides between Field 5, the Fire Island Lighthouse, and Kismet.
The startup debuted this summer after the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) and New York State granted permits to entrepreneur Justin Galbraith, who can often be found taking fares along the sandy road in his pedicab that looks identical to those that ferry tourists around the streets of Manhattan. Some community members raised concerns, but customers who use the service dig it.
“I’m the boss and the horse,” said Galbraith, who spent time in Fair Harbor and Kismet growing up and got the idea for the company while walking the same one-and-a-half-mile stretch of Burma Road with his daughter. “It takes a little finesse to work the bike and to also run the business.”
The pedicabs seat two adults and two children and have luggage racks. Fares are $5 per adult and $3 for children under 12 for one-way trips between Field 5 and the Fire Island Lighthouse. Trips from Field 5 to Kismet are $10 for adults, $6 for kids. The company takes cash, credit, PayPal, and Venmo.
“It’s definitely growing,” he said, noting that he did 60 trips back and forth on the Fourth of July. “The families love it.”
Fire Island Pedicabs is not to be confused with Fire Island Rickshaw, an apparently nonexistent company with an error-riddled website that advertises 24-hour pedicab rides between Ocean Bay Park, Ocean Beach, and Seaview. Attempts to contact the folks behind the rickshaw website were unsuccessful, as neither its listed phone number nor email address are in service. Galbraith noted that the rickshaw website has caused confusion, with at least one person calling him to voice opposition to pedicabs in Seaview – a community that his Fire Island Pedicabs doesn’t operate in.
FINS officials confirmed that Fire Island Pedicabs received its unprecedented permit just before Memorial Day.
“[FINS] has authorized a commercial use through our boundaries for a rickshaw service on a limited basis,” said Jason Pristupa, chief of administration at FINS. “This service is not an exclusive contract to operate within our boundaries, but rather an authorization of an appropriate use. This particular provider, authorized as “Burma Rides,” applied with the [National Park Service] … headquarters for permission to do business within our boundaries last fall …. As it is the first of its kind, the rickshaw service is a pilot program, and we will continue to monitor and evaluate as time progresses.”
Of course, as with all things new on the beach, some Fire Islanders are skeptical. Community leaders in both Kismet and its eastern neighbor, the Village of Saltaire, are wary of the pedicabs.
“This could lead to more visitors coming into the communities (fine), but we have seen problems that have arisen down east, somewhat euphemistically termed quality-of-life problems – not to mention pedicabs interfering with emergency vehicles, like ambulances,” Hugh O’Brien, a Saltaire village trustee, recently wrote in his Saltaire Summery column in the Fire Island News. “Don’t know where this will all lead, but as an incorporated village with its own laws, maybe we can tweak the spelling of our code provision ‘selling and peddling prohibited’ and outlaw pedicab pedaling within our borders.”
Kismet Community Association President Marsha Hunter echoed the concerns.
“They are impeding carting trucks, etc. at the Burma Road because the rickshaws get stuck in the sand even with no passengers,” she told the News. “And there is worry that this will end up with their using the streets of Kismet to taxi people to and from the bars.”
Galbraith counters that he only takes passengers to where the sidewalk starts in Kismet, has no interest in taking passengers into the communities, and has not been blocking traffic.
“There’s never ever an issue,” he said when told of the concerns, noting that the pedicabs are only 4 feet wide, allowing plenty of room on the road for trucks to pass him. He said he normally stops at the old Kismet Fire Department firehouse on Burma Road and has customers walk the final stretch through the soft sand to the start of the community sidewalks to avoid having the pedicabs get stuck.
“That’s as far as I can get right now because of the sand,” he said. “Most of the road is fine until you get toward the end.”
In the future, he hopes to build pedicabs with the kind of oversized tires that Fat Bikes use to cruise down the soft sand on the oceanfront, although Galbraith said even if he’s able to upgrade his pedicabs with bigger tires and bigger cabs, he’ll still stick to Burma Road.
“I need to build a bike that’s able to go through the whole way,” he said. In the meantime, he just hopes that this season the business can get enough momentum to break even and allow for a sophomore effort in the summer of 2020.
“The response has been great,” Galbraith said, adding that one passenger gave him $100 and told him to keep the change for sparing the struggle of walking down Burma Road with children. “It’s working, it’s catching on. People that take it love it.”
For more information, visit fireislandpedicabs.com or call 516-402-4175.
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