Pedicab owner Cesar Martinez’ favorite fare was not a movie star nor a local politician.
It was revered Father Harold Rahm, who had recently returned to his former parish in Segundo Barrio as person of the year at a cycling parade.
“When I was there the public who were seeing Father Rahm again or meeting him for the first time were very respectful of him riding through the neighborhood again. He used to ride his bike though Segundo Barrio to do mission work,” said Martinez, who owns Mesilla Pedicab Company.
Martinez, 42, gives rides to local school children, the elderly and visiting tourists for $1 per person, per city block. This is one of the few pedicab companies in El Paso. Martinez has been running this small business for more than four years now. He has five employees working with him currently.
“Pedicabs are non-motorized vehicles that allows us to move passengers around. The company started with just one bike, and each year we’ve been able to add another bike and we are at four bikes right now,” Martinez said.
The company started in Mesilla, New Mexico and now works in other locations in the El Paso area. Many big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas have been using pedicabs for years. El Paso is catching on to this big-city trend.
“We are a bike company that’s in downtown El Paso or really throughout the region, though we are headquartered in downtown El Paso. We like being down here and taking people to Armijo park or even the bridges if someone needs to go there,” Martinez said.
On summer afternoons Martinez can be found around Segundo Barrio.
As one of the oldest neighborhoods in El Paso, starting in 1834, Segundo Barrio, also called Second Ward, has evolved over time. It has gained proper housing, public pools, parks, a community center, a clinic and growing schools. Segundo Barrio is one of the lowest income communities in the nation but that doesn’t stop it from being a growing united population.
“In this neighborhood you see a lot of work trucks… a lot of traffic moving through here but everyone makes room for the pedicab because everyone wants it to move as safely as possible. I think that’s the truth with anyone being on a bike,” Martinez said.
When asked why he works in El Paso, Martinez said it is to maintain a sense of community.
“Being able to support small businesses that are here and to be able to help kids going from Armijo park, or going to the bridges or to the charter and different schools here; that’s the most important thing,” he said.
Employee safety is an important aspect of Martinez’ company, as well as his customers’ well being.
“It’s always best to stay organized and prepared to ride. We want to make sure all our riders are hydrated and that they are dressed for comfort and that they are ready to provide the best customer service for anybody that’s riding with them,” he said.
Martinez said there are many reasons a pedicab is an attractive service.
“There are a lot of people who like pedicabs because of their environmental impact,” he said.
Transporting people or goods without of the use of gas guzzlers is one of them. Other circumstances that may make the service attractive are for those dealing with disabilities or health issues and want to avoid driving or walking through congested parts of town.
The company also gains a lot of business by attending public events that cater to families.
“A lot of kids want to go for rides. If we are at a plaza or a park or something there are families around, that’s always a fun ride for them. This combines the fun activity of cycling and brings it together with special events like baseball games or concerts or parades,” Martinez said.
Operating the pedicab company is not profitable enough for Martinez to stop working at the other local business he owns: a small contracting company.
“It’s good having the chance to own a small business; this is something I’m able to do on the weekends or in the evenings,” Martinez said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Working around the community has deepened Martinez and his employees’ connection and understanding of places around El Paso like Segundo Barrio.
He said the areas where his pedicabs operate have unique personalities and identities. They aim to blend into the communities by not creating disruptions or distracting from local history like that of Segundo Barrio.
“Even though it is economically challenged, it’s one of the most historic communities in our city and it’s a very nice place to bring visitors or transport local residence in and around it,” Martinez said.