Chicago is finally getting around to regulating pedicabs, but in a way that operators warn could put a popular form of “green transportation” out of business.
Just as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration moves to fill the regulatory void that has allowed ride-sharing companies to siphon business from taxicabs, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is preparing to push through the pedicab licensing ordinance he introduced nearly a year ago.
The City Council’s Transportation and License committees will meet next week to consider Tunney’s plan to cap the number of pedicab licenses at 200 and empower aldermen to ban pedicabs from congested areas “in the interest of preserving health and safety or avoiding traffic congestion.”
Tunney’s ordinance also would require pedicabs to: post a fare schedule; meet rigid safety standards including passenger seat belts; get a pedicab operator’s permit and follow the “Rules of the Road;” face pedicab impoundment if they violate city rules; provide proof of workers compensation and liability insurance and purchase $250-a-year licenses and $25 decals.
“We’ve been experiencing issues around Wrigley Field where we’ve got pedicabs operating without a [pre-established] fare, without a fare structure, without licensing. We feel it’s time to bring them in under the umbrella of regulation,” Tunney said this week.
“It’s a creative way of transportation. We are welcoming them—as long as we can get our arms around them. There’s no consumer protection for safety, for licensing or fare regulation. I’m afraid we’ll have a major accident and it’ll be like, why haven’t you done this? We’ve been working on it for a couple of years. We’re probably one of the last major cities to put regulations on them. I’m comfortable with it.”
What Tunney failed to mention is that a final copy of the ordinance distributed by his chief-of-staff would also prohibit the operation of pedicabs on both Michigan Avenue and State Street from Congress Parkway to Oak Street and in the Loop during rush hours.
That doesn’t sit well with the newly-formed Chicago Pedicab Association.
“This is going to potentially destroy the pedicab industry in Chicago. We won’t be able to navigate the Loop and River North areas or pick up passengers in any of these areas,” said board member T.C. O’Rourke.
“The Loop, Michigan Avenue and State Street are the most pedestrian- and tourist-oriented areas of the city. Many pedicab operators make the bulk of their income working in these areas. They’re where the people are. Essentially, it would make working in the Loop and River North virtually impossible. We wouldn’t able to showcase these iconic streets. The rest of the ordinance is tolerable, but not this part.”
Robert Tipton, owner of 20 pedicabs operating as Roger Rickshaw, could not be reached for comment on Tunney’s renewed push.
When the ordinance was introduced last May, Tipton accused Tunney of going too far, potentially stifling a popular form of green transportation that should be welcomed by any major city.
“This is a non-polluting, emission-free vehicle. Every city in the world needs that. Chicago should do any and everything it can to encourage this new form of transportation instead of restricting it,” Tipton said then.
“Everybody who tries it comes away smiling,” he said. “It also serves a real purpose. Pedicabs fit into a bike lane and between cars. They can get where they’re going quicker than a cars. It’s an urban solution. There should not be any limit. You’re just limiting the ability for people to get around. There’s also a competition between taxicabs and pedicabs. Why put a limit on the underdog when they don’t even know how many exist? What if there’s 300 citywide?”
At the time, Tipton was equally opposed to requiring pedicabs to post fares. Instead, he proposed a simple sign that states that fares are negotiable and should be arranged before the ride begins.
“This is a bicycle. If you have a strong headwind or passengers who weigh more than others, the driver needs to be able to adjust that rate based on conditions,” he said.
A 15-minute ride can cost $10, $20 or $30 and that flexibility should be allowed to continue, he said.
“It’s a supply-and-demand type of deal. If there’s high demand, prices are higher. If it’s low, they’ll gladly take the ride,” Tipton said.
Five years ago, a similar ordinance introduced by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley stalled after pedicab owners who lease their vehicles by the day and week were unable to obtain worker’s compensation insurance for drivers who work as independent contractors.
Tipton warned that the same thing could happen again.
“Our drivers decide when and where to work and how much they’re gonna charge. We do not pay them. They pay us. We rent a cab to them on a daily or weekly basis. The insurance companies—when they go to figure out worker’s compensation costs, it doesn’t fit the mold,” he said.