By Gary Dinges
Shuttling thousands of out-of-towners during the South by Southwest festivals means long hours and extra pay for area bus, cab and pedicab drivers.
The interactive portion of the festival, which starts Friday, drew 20,000 people alone last year. That was up 36 percent from 2010, according to event organizers.
Some companies are even hiring temporary workers. R&R Limos is searching for more than 100 additional van drivers to shuttle attendees from 50 area hotels to panels, film screenings and concerts at venues across downtown.
“This is by far our busiest time of the year,” said Paul Arcediano, R&R’s owner.
Pay is $8 per hour, Arcediano said, with an overtime rate of $12 per hour. Drivers who make it through the festival without a wreck are eligible for an additional $2 safety bonus for each hour worked.
The temporary gig is ideal for school bus drivers off for spring break, Arcediano said, and members of the military who are on leave.
R&R will pay for city chauffeur’s permits for each of its new hires, he said.
“We’ve heard from a ton of people,” he said. “We’re looking for people with positive attitudes because they’re going to be representing Austin.”
Austin pedicab drivers will be busy as well, with some working 12-hour shifts and carrying as many as 50 passengers a day from downtown to destinations as far as three miles away, including West Campus, according to Capital Pedicab owner Greg Fulkes.
The company operates 46 pedicabs, and during SXSW, more drivers than usual are on the streets, with many of them working longer-than-normal shifts.
“The four music days are the biggest days for us,” Fulkes said. “People just want to go home, and on busy nights, they can’t get a car cab.”
Heart of Texas Pedicab owner Steve Smajstrla said pedicab drivers can make as much as $500 per day during the festival, making it by far the most lucrative time of the year.
“I have a guy who comes back from Milwaukee each year,” Smajstrla said, “and a few guys from Dallas, too. Some people sleep in their cars, get up the next morning and get going again.”
When Smajstrla first started in 2004, the Austin City Limits Music Festival was the year’s busiest event, but that has changed in recent years.
“South by Southwest has eclipsed ACL several times over,” Smajstrla said.
Capital Metro is gearing up for SXSW as well, putting additional buses on its Nos. 481 and 484 “Night Owl” routes, which run from midnight until past 3 a.m. It’s also adding extra MetroRail runs Friday and Saturday, as well as March 16 and 17.
The transit agency said it’s expecting to see additional passengers on its MetroAirport route from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown Austin, as well as Route No. 3, which hits several movie theaters participating in the film portion of the fest.
Contact Gary Dinges at 912-5987
See more: Austin Statesman