Tanuj Apte, Autopod co-founder

Autopods, the bright green pedicabs that provide short trips within the city, is offering free lifts in select city neighborhoods in the coming month.

The startup has partnered with the Chambers of Commerce in Shadyside and East Liberty to provide hyperlocal transport (trips less than two miles) from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Consider it the ultimate way to shop local and reduce your carbon footprint.

Founders Tanuj Apte and Deepak Vidhani, who grew up in Dubai, met as students at Carnegie Mellon University. They say that pedicabs—powered by an electric battery and human pedal power—are a promising sustainable mode of transportation that has yet to take off in the U.S.

“Alternate vehicles like ours are really the key to solving the problems associated with urban transport,” says Apte. “With a little bit of technology, we can revolutionize the short trips people make every day. Think Uber for a fixed-mile radius.”

The startup is working with AlphaLab Gear to further streamline the cab by lightening the weight (vehicles under 100 pounds are permitted to ride in bike lanes) and winterizing the cab with glass windows. Version 2.5, scheduled for release next month, will motor hills more easily and won’t rely on exhaustive pedal power quite as much, he says.

Studies show that a majority of all car trips in the U.S. are short distances. Apte believes the biggest challenge is changing the American mindset for cars that are robust, fast and loud.

“A quiet, silent ride is just not big right now, but we believe in time it will gain traction,” Apte says.

The duo modeled their pedicabs on the German-made Velo cab. They stripped it down and reduced the overall retail price per pedicab to $5,100, which includes a 10 percent federal tax discount. The batteries get 80 miles to the charge. Pedicabs do not require a license to operate because they are not considered a motor vehicle, says Apte.

Plans call for raising a seed round of funding and to build more pedicabs to sell for personal purchase and the taxi service side of the business. “We’d like everyone to have a spare Autopod in their garage,” says Apte. 

Autopods earns revenue through local businesses, like chambers of commerce, which advertise on the cab. The startup charges $5 a ride outside of the free ride neighborhoods and plans to tap into iPad ad spots and digital coupons that will run inside the cab.

An app to hail the cab is currently in beta. In the meantime, the only way to track one down is to stop one on the streets. Three Autopods will circulate around Walnut, Ellsworth and Highland avenues in Shadyside from noon to 8 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Look for them on the South Side after the bars close at night.

“Most of our trips are around the bars at night,” says Apte. “It attracts attention and markets itself.”

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.