It’s been two years since Lyndsi and David Austin launched RVATukTuk, offering tours and rides on their fleet of electric-powered, three-wheeled open-air vehicles.
Now, as Richmonders venture out again in a vaccinated world, the couple’s tuk-tuks are having a moment.
“To date (in 2021) we have done more tours than we did all of last year. Now it’s month over month; the increase is incredible,” Lyndsi Austin said. “We did like 80 tours in April and 136 or 137 in May. We’ve already booked more in June than we did in April that haven’t even happened yet.”
That’s a welcome change from the startup’s early days, which were tough in the first few months of operation in 2019 and only became more difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced their customer base inside.
To keep revenue flowing, they got creative during the winter by running “tacky light tours” around the city.
Since then, Austin said, their business has been busier and busier. It doesn’t hurt that customers are allowed to drink in the back of the tuk-tuks.
“When people ride with us it’s really more about being on the tuk-tuk, and I don’t think you could say that about an Uber, ever,” said Austin. “It’s not so much about transportation. We’re really selling the experience.”
Rides start at $150 for a 90-minute tour for up to 6 passengers. A bar hop for up to six riders is $175 for two hours and $250 for three hours.
RVATukTuk also gets income from advertising on the sides of their vehicles. Companies like Brown Distributing Co. and ValleyStar Credit Union have reached out to them about their ad space.
The advertising revenue helps cover operating costs, the biggest of which is the insurance on the vehicles.
“Because these are unusual vehicles that insurance companies don’t have a lot of experience with, we pay about $5,000 a year for each one,” Austin said. “I am hoping that will change over time. They’ve been around in the U.S. for just over five years and there has not been one incident with them.”
Because of their ramped up demand, they added two more tuk-tuks to their original fleet of four, which they keep at 1113 W. Clay St. in the Carver neighborhood.
The Austins said they have about 10 drivers on staff and are in desperate need of more. They look for people with a clean driving record, good customer service skills, and knowledge of the city.
The couple said people come from around the state to ride and, for most lately, it’s been their first experience going out since the pandemic began.
“People, for the most part, get on there and they’re just happy,” said David. “They have smiles on their faces and they’re just having so much fun. It’s a new experience being that open on the road driving through the city.”
Lyndsi added, “And being the center of attention.”