Emanuel moves to close legal loophole exploited by pedicabs

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Some pedicab operators think the latest tweak to city regulations goes too far, especially on the heels of previous restrictions that have caused their numbers to dwindle. | Photo provided

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is moving to close a legal loophole that Chicago pedicab operators are “exploiting” to get around rigid city regulations.

Emanuel wants to amend the municipal code governing pedicab licenses to state: “A person engages in the occupation of a pedicab chauffeur by seeking or accepting a fee, an economic benefit of a donation or gratuity or any form of compensation [goods or services] for providing transportation to passengers in a pedicab.”

The mayor’s office said the changes are simply intended to “clarify when someone needs to be licensed.”

“When a pedicab is carrying passengers and is stopped for unlicensed activity, the pedicab operator could potentially claim that they are not engaged in a business or occupation but are transporting people for free and passengers are free to `tip’ for the services. While this is not a widespread issue we  wanted to remove any ambiguity,” mayoral  spokesman Grant Klinzman wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is all for for crackdown.

“I’ve seen pedicab operators near the United Center with signs that encourage ‘tips or donations’ – so they may be using that as a way to circumvent licensing requirements,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Clarifying the definition of ‘operator’ will close a loophole that’s being exploited by some operators and will ultimately help the city ensure pedicab operators are complying with existing licensing, insurance and safety regulations that are intended to protect their customers.”

He added, “I wouldn’t call it a crackdown. The administration is simply fine-tuning the ordinance to ensure pedicab operators comply with the current rules and regulations already on the books. Their proposal would not add further restrictions, costs or penalties for the pedicab industry.”

Pedicab operator Roger Rickshaw blasted Emanuel for tightening the noose against pedicab operators seeking to avoid city regulations that went too far.

The ordinance capped the number of pedicabs at 200, permanently banned them from Michigan Avenue and State Street and kept them out of the Loop during rush hours. Pedicabs also: are required to post fares and meet rigid safety standards, including passenger seat belts; must provide proof of workers compensation insurance; and face impoundment if they violate city rules.

“It’s stupid he’s even wasting his time on such a miniscule thing. I would hope our mayor has better things to do than to chase after a few guys trying to pay their rent and put food on the table. So what if people are trying to make money?” Rickshaw said.

“I used to have 25 bikes. Now, I have one. The way the ordinance was originally written, it put a lot of guys out of business. There are some things that could have been taken out of there so it’s not so difficult. People need to survive in this world so they can eat.  It’s not really fun flipping burgers at McDonald’s for the minimum wage. There’s no independence in that. There’s an independent, entrepreneurial spirit to driving a pedicab.”

Two years ago, Chicago pedicab owners accused the City Council of “discriminating” against pedicabs and warned that they would be forced out of business by the draconian regulations.

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

To do otherwise for the estimated 400 people trying to eke out a living with pedicabs was unfair, they said.

“Not allowing me . . . to operate without restrictions would only kill my business …I would basically be forced to sell my cabs and start another business if I cannot operate on these two iconic streets [Michigan and State]. 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.

Emanuel strongly disagreed.

“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 then.

“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.”

The first few months of the city crackdown proved the doomsayers right with only 15 licensed pedicab vehicles and only 44 drivers submitting applications. As of Thursday, there were are 112 licensed pedicabs, Klinzman said.

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