Word on the Street

There’s a new kid riding around the city block and Robbie Slape has the latest on Adelaide’s eco-cool way to do public transportation.

It’s not every day you feel like you are at the beginning of something very exciting. Like many people my age, I have felt the vertigo of being pulled at by the Brain Drain. That road that leads first to Murray Bridge, then the border before making a final dash for Melbourne or Sydney, Hong Kong, Townsville. Okay, maybe not Townsville so much, but for years Adelaide has had a reputation as a boring backwater. I really have no reason to dispute that if you are speaking from the not-so-distant-past. People like Daniels Langeberg, the man behind Eco Caddy– a new local start-up that is already taking the streets of A-town by force, will readily admit all of this. He senses, like I do, this time it is not just about the hype. The good times are seemingly here to stay.

Here I am typing in the lovely new Jeffrey Smart Building at City West, looking out over the a skyline that includes the wonderfully revamped Adelaide Oval and Hindley Street being built for a progressive, future Adelaide. Just yesterday, I spent way too much money in one of the many small, new bars that are popping up around the place. Festival mayhem is around for a couple more weeks, yet you can’t shake the feeling that it’s not just the festivals. Adelaide is different. It has changed. Shit, it is almost on the brink of being a kick-arse place year-round if we’re not careful about it.

It’s a group effort. We want to have a reason to stay here. Langeberg agrees – there is change in the air. ‘It’s cool, just the great minds that are in Adelaide, there’s cool stuff happening at the moment,’ he acknowledges as we tuck into our coffees at the Gouger Street Cibo – another SA success story.

Langeberg is currently busy curating an awesome flotilla of semi-motorised, semi-human-powered pedi-cab machines. Well, they’re not pedi-cabs. They’re not even bikes he explains. ‘It’s not – if you see the bike as a tool, then it wouldn’t fit in the exact same toolkit. It is a cycle. I see it as being more of a hybrid – which it is in its technical sense – of a motor vehicle and a bicycle. Obviously it has three wheels, that’s a major difference as well.’

Despite how revolutionary this type of travel is, there is no denying there is a lot of friction on the roads. ‘Adelaide itself is quite conservative, it has all the elements of being a great cycling city, but there’s that angst between the cyclist and the motorist and I think it’s only now that policy-makers and design-makers are really starting to take cycling more seriously and that’s one of the reasons that drew me to start TreeCycle Australia in Adelaide and not in Melbourne. I see it as a city where there is a lot of room for growth – like a lot,’ he says.

‘Melbourne is a cool place – that’s why we all have a bed somewhere between Fitzroy and Coburg with some old mates. But, it’s maybe too cool for its own good’, Langeberg explains. ‘There’s a lot of noise when it comes to being the next hip thing. Here you really have to prove yourself. You have to actually be fantastic, not just fit the trend.

‘I just saw it as an awesome challenge, I just thought why not – why not go for it. I mean, the great thing about Adelaide is if you do something and you do it well, or if you do something and you do it bad, you get a lot of attention from the media here in Adelaide.’

He has definitely been getting plenty of attention. ‘We’ve got a really good reception – we’re not another pedi-cab company. We aspire to run from 8am-8pm, Mondays-Fridays. And then on Saturdays 10am – 10pm, and then on Sundays maybe later on, 11am-6pm.’

Ultimately, the idea is about making public transit friendlier, more personal and secure. Langeberg applies this concept to the most endearing thing about the company, the riders themselves. ‘We’re looking for fit, charismatic, knowledgeable people. They’re local as well and that’s the main point. What most pedi-cab companies around the world, particularly in Australia, haven’t captured is they’re all backpackers. They don’t understand the local economy, they don’t understand the locality, the road rules, the laws. I think it’s really been under-utilised.’

It is not just about moving people from one place to another and taking as much money as they can. It is about building relationships, building community. ‘Because of the vehicle itself, the riders are so exposed to the outside elements, you have these conversations with people on the street,’ he explains.

In future incarnations of the smart phone app, Langeberg says Eco Caddy even plans to be able to match patrons to riders they prefer. Can you do that on a bus? As for payment, when you channel them through your smart phone, you will know how much you’ll be ask to fork over.

‘We’ve got a very, very simple range – our price structure. It’s just two zones, one is the CBD the other one is north Adelaide. So by moving between the districts it costs $10 and moving within those districts it costs $5. It’s just a flat fee and there’s a reason for that. One – it’s a price point that fits comfortably. We’re cheaper than any other form of transportation To get across town [in a taxi] is about $12, $15 in peak hour traffic. Uber is $20 flat to start off with then you keep getting charged. So $5 per person is a very comfortable rate.’

The most exciting thing about Eco Caddy is not only how it’s another great reason to think about hanging in Adelaide a bit longer, it’s shedding light on how many other people like Daniels Langeberg that are standing up for the city. Stuff Melbourne and Sydney, this place deserves to be loveable too!

He even spent thirteen months on his sister’s couch to make this happen. That is a massive effort, and if successful, one that will put Eco Caddy right up there with frog cakes and pot in terms of South Australian notoriety. ‘We’re not this seasonal thing, we’re not coming and going. We want to be a part of this city’s urban fabric. Just like the yellow cab or the London cab is synonymous with New York and London, we want to be synonymous with Adelaide. We want people to come to Adelaide and be like, “Oh yeah, this is where those Eco Caddies are and that’s the thing.” We’re talking about image, corporate image, but we’re also talking about city identity. We want to be a part of that urban fabric,’ Langeberg explains.

I have listened to Deputy Premier John Rau speak on a few occasions – not exactly the sort of person you expect to have his finger on the pulse – but in many ways he is a keen instigator in this recent rush towards trendiness. Speaking at the Re-shaping Adelaide forum a couple weeks ago, he made the point that it is not about being Melbourne or Sydney it is about, ‘being the best Adelaide we can be.’ With people like Rau and Langeberg around and the streets teeming with some cool looking trikes, it’s hard to think we’re not heading there. So lap it up, get amongst it and hang around for a while.

Last I heard Eco Caddy were still looking for some riders, so if you want to be a part of something special, head over to their website www.eco-caddy.com. Or pop into their HQ at 174 Wright Street – Daniels Langeberg will be around and happy to have a chat. Catch them on the roads more and more as business improves.

Words & image by Robbie Slape

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