Your chariot awaits: Meet Todd of ‘Vamos! Lion Chariots’
Putting Cata buses to shame since 2012
Students often will find Todd peddling around campus, waving, honking and high-fiving everyone. A former Penn State alum himself, Todd worked in the Penn State meteorology department before shifting over to AccueWeather weather station and finally starting “Vamos! Lion Chariot” in 2012.
He explains he needed the time to do some business research and development and to figure out if the idea “had legs, or well, wheels and could work. I mean, after all, I studied meteorology…I knew about clouds, but not about accounting and sales.”
The Tab sat down with Todd (in his bike, no less) to ask him about his ingenious business.
So how did “Vamos! Lion Chariots” start? Where did the inspiration come from?
Have you ever heard about the “seven year itch?” Well I had gone through that and a little more, and I was just thinking ‘what else is there out there?’ So I went to California 6 years ago for a vacation, and I see these pedicabs and I took a ride and I just sort of had an epiphany and thought, ‘isn’t this cool?’ It’s fun, you get to exercise, and you’re probably making money. This doesn’t exist at Penn State, but it would probably work.
Were there a lot of administrative hoops to jump through to start your business?
There were, actually. Before I started, I met with different agencies here at Penn State and in the borough, and I told them what I wanted to do. Each of these units had their individual concerns, and I needed to address these concerns before I started.
For instance, the transportation people were concerned about slowing down the Cata buses, so I got an electric assist to help push these things along better. But there was also health and environmental safety, risk management, and all those good things. Once I alleviated their concerns, things got rolling—pun intended.
What was your first ride on the roads like?
I’ll never forget the first time I went out on the road, I rode by Delta Chi fraternity, and all the brothers were out on the lawn and they all were dumbfounded and shouting “What the ‘beep’ is that?!” before bursting into cheers. That’s when I sort of thought “I think this is gonna work!”
So what’s your business looking like now? How many bikes do you have? How many employees?
I have 11 total bikes, but about 6 in circulation with the other 5 needing some remedial help. And employee technically isn’t the right word because they’re independent contractors. They help out when we have larger events. For example, a caravan tour, or special PSU events, like the parade or football games.
How much does a pedicab cost?
How many hours do you work per week?
Around 40-60, but not all of it is spent on the roads. A good chunk of it is spent on the business aspect of things, like marketing and advertising.
Are you looking to expand your business?
I’m not looking to expand so much in terms of road presence, but rather the types of specialty rides we offer. Currently we offer sightseeing and date tours, but are just starting to break into the wedding tours business.
We think ‘Vamos! Lion Chariots’ is the perfect way to transport the bride and groom and perhaps the whole wedding party around the campus. Instead of being cooped up in a limousine where you can’t interact with the couple, the pedicab is the perfect way to do a wedding.
What do the “date rides” entail?
Our date rides can vary depending on the atmosphere you want to portray. Sometimes they’re more serious and romantic—the driver will dress up nice with maybe a rose and some nice, soft music. Or sometimes it’s more goofy and we will use the carnival cart that’s decked out with all kinds of crazy stuff that can help break the ice. So, it all depends on what you are shooting for.
Do you have any memorable passenger rides?
We actually brought Keegan-Michael Key from the Nittany Lion Inn to the stadium, and he’s actually a really nice guy. You would think that all that fame and fortune would get to his head, but not at all.
Do you get a lot of drunk passengers?
Well, there’s the “late night bar crowd” segment of this business, but we don’t take on the really inebriated people due to liability purposes. I like the buzzed ones though—they’re pretty fun. There are some people that will say, ‘Oh can you take my friend? He can’t walk.’ But if he can’t walk, he can’t be on here.
Let me put it this way: I’ve been doing this three and a half years but I’ve never had anyone puke on here. Usually what I’ll say is, “How’s tummy doing tonight?”
How about any memorable ‘date rides’?
One of them was a fraternity brother that asked for him and his date to be picked up and taken to “The Tavern”, but he had these suitcases in hand and I thought “Okay that’s a little strange, but alright.” Anyway, I’m riding down College Ave when I hear him scream out “She said yes! and I stopped the bike, turned around and said, “You didn’t tell me you were going to propose!”
The other memorable story is of Garret and Lauren. Garret got into a severe car accident during his time at Penn State, and he had some memory loss. His girlfriend Lauren stuck by his side. She used to talk about the good memories they had together at Hintz Gardens, but he couldn’t remember. He has us take them to Hinz Gardens and he got down on one knee and proposed, so it was a really sweet new memory for them. There’s actually been quite a few proposals done with “Vamos! Lion Chariots.” I love helping the guys figure out how best to surprise their ladies.
How about a fun fact about you?
It all started with a trip to Puerto Rico in 2002. I was lost and met someone, but he couldn’t help me because I didn’t speak Spanish. In that moment of time I said I was going to learn Spanish and go back to Puerto Rico and speak to that dude.
So the “Vamos!” in the name of the company is personal to me and important to my life, and I wanted to incorporate that in the name. There’s nothing that warms my heart more than when I hear someone scream out “Vamos!” on a Friday night.