Patrolling Pedicabs

Gotham Gazette | June 29, 2009

By Courtney Gross

The three-wheeled, human-powered pedicab lobby rolled into City Hall this morning for a surprisingly calm hearing on new regulations that would license the industry for the first time.

It was calm in comparison to the so-called chaos the industry causes in Times Square.

The new regulations — which could be approved by the City Council as early as July, according to Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Leroy Comrie — would do away with a previous cap on licenses and replace it with a 60-day window to apply to operate a pedicab. The City Council had attempted to regulate the human-powered cabs in 2007, limiting their number to 325, but it was then sued by the New York City Pedicab Owners’ Association. The court struck down the city regulations, which the administration opposed as well, and derailed the implementation of the cap.

The new regulations, which the administration and the City Council agreed upon earlier this month, would require pedicabs to register with the Department of Consumer Affairs. They would be subject to safety checks, drivers would be required to have a license and every cab would have to have seat belts, headlights and taillights. Their brakes would also be subject to inspection. Every pedicab business could only license 30 pedicabs.

After the 60-day licensing period, there would be an 18-month freeze on pedicab licensing. Licenses could be transferred between owners.

A major concern for the industry and city officials is safety. Currently, critics say, completely unregulated pedicabs crowd Times Square and speed along roadways, endangering passengers. Earlier this month, before the announcement of the new regulations, a driver and passenger were seriously injured when a pedicab collided with a yellow cab on the Williamsburg Bridge.

That incident sparked a cry to limit where pedicabs can go and highlighted the need for regulations, say critics. Some say the new rules do not go far enough.

“Midtown Manhattan is now overcrowded with these dangerous, slow-moving vehicles and this proposal simply does not fully address the larger problem,” said Thomas Ferrugia, director of government relations for The Broadway League. “Pedicabs contribute to the dangerous and chaotic atmosphere of the theater district. They utilize narrow congested side-streets, stop on fast-moving thoroughfares like Broadway and 7th and 8th avenues to solicit rides and weave dangerously through traffic.”

While some criticized the 60-day licensing period, saying it needs to go further in regulating the industry, others said the city should do more to promote the clean and green way of getting around town. A licensing period would be a de facto cap on pedicab permits, which the city should be encouraging to spread to the outer boroughs, one operator said.

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, said pedicabs should be allowed on bridges, in bike lanes and they should not be blamed for Midtown congestion. Those in the industry say the new regulations need to focus on cutting out reckless pedicab drivers — through a series of fines and eventual de-licensing — than on capping the number of cabs to begin with.

“While no piece of legislation is ever perfect, this bill comes fairly close,” said Chad Marlow of the New York Pedicab Owners’ Association in a prepared statement.