Street Smarts

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Photo: Robert Sellar

It is a testament to the quality of St Andrews’ nightlife that we require any sort of transportation (beyond mere walking) to get us home after a night out. Even the most remote student flat is reachable within a half hour by foot. Despite this, however, a heady night out often leaves us in such a state that some kinetic assistance is required, frequently in the form of a taxi. More understandably, students who struggle to cart their groceries home or who dislike the idea of walking in the rain may also opt for a cab ride as they undertake the lengthy sojourn from Tesco to David Russell Apartments.

Despite the constant sight of students piling into cabs following an evening at the Vic or throughout a particularly windy afternoon, few people would admit to enjoying taxi rides. No one likes attempting to issue directions to their house in the Badlands, scrambling for change to pay the overpriced fare, or struggling to reconcile the driver’s taste in music with their own. The litany of reasons to dislike cabs goes on. As a result, four St Andreans have taken it upon themselves to offer us an alternative: rickshaws.

Fourth-year student James Webb, inspired by his time spent driving a rickshaw in India, united with third- year student Charlie Buchanan-Smith and fellow fourth years Abraham McCauley and Simon Pepper to establish Chariots of Hire, a local business like no other. Based upon prior rickshaw escapades and a proclivity for cycling, the foursome launched their brand in the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year. Meticulous research led the team to Aberdeen, where they purchased three state-of-the-art rickshaws, equipped with WiFi and speakers. The goal being to support one of the main tenets of the business: to entertain. As Pepper explained: “Taxi rides are a run-of-the-mill occurrence. We offer people a more holistic experience.”

Considering their entrepreneurial spirits, one may expect the business owners to be students of management or economics. Instead they study courses as varied as chemistry, French, geology and biology. They explained to The Saint that this diversity aids them in the social aspect of their business. The ability to chat with guests about such an extensive list of subjects further improves the rickshawing affair. Pepper recalls conversing in French with a pair of customers one evening, surely making the ride home one of their more memorable experiences using private transportation.

In their debut appearance, Chariots of Hire stationed their rickshaws at the Old Course for GIG’s glamorous For Your Eyes Only casino night. The black tie-clad guests were intrigued by the prospect of such a unique form of transport and gamely clamoured into the vehicles. Cycling in its own right is no easy task, but combining it with a heavy rickshaw and poor weather conditions necessitates a certain amount of fitness that the four boys possess in spades. The team returned to rickshaw again at Masquerade Ball and later at the Kate Kennedy Club’s annual toga party, in both instances earning rave reviews from their customers and ensuring their viability in the personal transportation industry.

Another notable feature of Chariots of Hire is their fare – or rather, the lack thereof. Rather than billing clients, the boys allow their customers to choose their rate of pay based on the quality of the ride. By allowing people to pay however much or little they want, the service is guaranteed to be top-notch as the boys seek to deliver a genuine experience.

With their wealth of life experience and assortment of interests, it is no wonder that the foursome is so keen to provide a positive, social experience for its customers. The rickshaws also allow customers to play music on request (McCauley fondly reminisces about one ride spent listening to Sorry by Justin Bieber on repeat), as the free WiFi permits their clients to use YouTube or Spotify en route. Most importantly, the customer’s safety is ensured should a potential emergency situation arise. Having undergone council-sanctioned training to obtain their street trader’s license in accordance to Scottish law, all four members of the startup are able to adequately cater to any needs their guests may have, large and small.

The rickshaws themselves, built in Germany and outfitted to every modern convenience, are impressive specimens in their own right. Far from the rickety contraptions that one might picture, the vehicles rival cars in their convenience factor. With the aid of indicators, lights, brakes and seat-belts, the rickshaws can obey all the expected rules of traffic as they soar to speeds of 40 miles per hour. Such rules were kept in mind during a Vic-sponsored rickshaw race from the Vic to Janettas Gelateria, which saw the rickshaws pushed to their limit as they skilfully navigated their way along South Street. Formally inspected and council approved, these eco-friendly vehicles are maintained to the highest standards and kept in a secure location when not in use.

Chariots of Hire seeks not only to offer an alternative method of transportation, but also to revolutionise the local travel industry. McCauley says he hopes to offer tours of St Andrews, aided by the knowledge accumulated during his four years as a student here spent traversing the town. This way, tourists and residents alike can witness the hidden gems that they may previously have overlooked, all from the comfort of a rickshaw and with the aid of their knowledgeable drivers. The group’s humanitarian ethos is demonstrated in its involvement with Sitara, one of the many student-run charity fashion shows on campus. Chariots of Hire has offered the free use of a rickshaw to be used for the event’s photobooth.

Although their primary business during the school year comes from students, the boys hope to increase their potential clientele during the summer golf season in St Andrews. Chariots of Hire has been in talks with The New Inn regarding a potential partnership, with the goal of contributing a unique brand of tour to a market suffused with foot traffic. Having spent years learning the ins and outs of our town, the drivers now possess enough talent and street smarts to take the road less travelled and to present St Andrews not only as a golfing hotspot, but as our home.

St Andrews is filled with the ambitious and the business-minded, as evidenced by the sheer amount of charity events, student blogs and budding organisations that we see advertised on Facebook each day. However, Chariots of Hire stands out amongst this crowd for its intrepid premise and creative payment model. The team describes their startup as an opportunity to demonstrate that while internships and grad schemes may be beneficial, we all have the potential to start our careers earlier and on our own time. As equal partners and their own bosses, the four boys set their own hours and work for as long as they desire.

Webb, McCauley, Pepper and Buchanan-Smith all come from different walks of life, but neither their passion for the peculiar, nor their passion for Chariots of Hire can be denied. It may be in early stages yet, but their business does appear to be gaining traction as they begin the process of obtaining a logo and arranging events on a more regular basis. The beginning of the new year and the promise of second semester’s full social calendar have provided the momentum they will need to foster their growing business, taking it from a niche market to a mainstream resource.

Even if one prefers walking or taxiing home after a night out in town, the idea of taking a rickshaw, even just once, should not be so quickly dismissed. It could be the ride of your life.

To learn more about Chariots of Hire, check out their Facebook page

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