Pedicab crackdown bans them from Michigan Ave., State Street

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 04/30/2014, 08:14pm

Chicago pedicabs would be capped at 200, permanently banned from Michigan Avenue and State Street and kept out of the Loop during rush hours under a crackdown unanimously approved by the City Council Wednesday that, pedicab owners warn, will force them out of business.

Mayor Rahm Emauel strongly disagreed. He noted that he saw quite a few pedicabs around the United Center on Sunday before and after the Blackhawks Game 6 clincher against the St. Louis Blues.

“If there’s other things we need to do as it relates to the industry, we’ll come back. But, you don’t wait until you’ve thought of” everything, the mayor said after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“We’ve taken a step here forward. It’s a new industry that just emerged. We now have a regulatory architecture that provides some safety and a clear set of rules as it relates to safety so riders have that knowledge.”

Earlier this week, pedicab owners accused the City Council of “discriminating” against pedicabs.

They noted that cabdrivers and horse-drawn carriages have unlimited access to Chicago’s showcase streets and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has installed protected bike lanes on downtown streets.

To do otherwise for the estimated 400 people trying to eke out a living driving pedicabs is unfair and threatens to destroy a popular form of green transportation, they contend.

“Not allowing me . . . to operate without restrictions would only kill my business — to the point that I would just be forced to move on to another venture. I would basically be forced to sell my cabs and start another business if I cannot operate on these two iconic streets here. This is where the tourists are. This is where the Chicagoan locals are. [About] 300,000 people walk up and down this street,” said Antonio Bustamante, owner of Kickback Pedicabs.

T.C. O’Rourke, a board member of the newly formed Chicago Pedicab Association, said Michigan Avenue, State Street and the Loop are “where our customer base is” and where passengers want to go.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to take a pedicab tour if the couldn’t see the Mag Mile. It’s something that our city is known for. It also makes it virtually impossible to navigate the largely one-way street grid that was designed around these two major roadways,” he said.

Zoraida Ortiz, owner of Pilsen Bike Tours, said the argument that pedicabs slow downtown traffic is “completely false.  . . .  We go faster than a horse carriage. If they’re allowed downtown, we should be allowed downtown.”

Ortiz noted that pedicab driving is an “income seasonal job” coming off a brutal winter where business came to a standstill.

“We are not making that much money. If you create all of these regulations as far as licensing fees and tickets and impounding cabs, it will not make this a very lucrative job and the city of Chicago will lose a lot of jobs at a time when we need to create more jobs,” she said.

The ordinance championed by Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) would require pedicabs to purchase $250-a-year licenses, but cap number of pedicab decals at 200. Pedicabs would be banned from Michigan and State from Congress Parkway to Oak Street and in the Loop during rush hours.

Pedicabs would also be required to post their fares, meet rigid safety standards including passenger seatbelts, face pedicab impoundment if they violate city rules and provide proof of workers compensation insurance. To qualify for a license, drivers would have to be at least 18 years old. They would be prohibited from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

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