Pedicab licensing slowed by downtown ban, operators say

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Chicago pedicab owners have warned that they would be forced out of business by the city’s draconian plan to cap them at 200, permanently ban them from Michigan Avenue andState Street and keep them out of the Loop during rush hours.

They may be right, judging from the first few months of the city crackdown.

Through Friday of last week, the city had issued licenses for just 15 pedicab vehicles, with 65 more pending completion of the application process, including proof of insurance, officials said.

As for the separate city license for pedicab drivers, 44 people have applied, but only 29 licenses have been issued. Eleven applications are still pending. Four have been denied.

“We’ve been surprised. I mean, 80 applications is a good number. But, we know there are more than that operating out there,” said Barbara Gressel, assistant commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

“This is only speculation. But, we believe that many of those who are not applying don’t meet the standards that we’ve set for a safe vehicle.”

T.C. O’Rourke, a board member of the Chicago Pedicab Association, blamed the trickle of applications on the City Council’s decision to ban pedicabs from Michigan and State between Congress Parkway and Oak Street and from the entire Loop during rush hours.

“The impact of the downtown street bans has really been felt. It’s really cut into business,” O’Rourke said.

“People are unwilling to take on that expense and that risk. Many people have just quit doing this work. Others have moved away to less overbearing regulatory environments.”

The slow start to pedicab licensing seemed to alarm Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th).

“It’s a good industry. It’s green. Very green. And we don’t want to put too many limitations that will scale back the industry,” Reboyras said.

Gressel updated aldermen while testifying before the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection on tweaks to the pedicab ordinance that, among other things, spell out the appeals process after license denials.

From June 1 through Sept. 22, Gressel noted that 34 citations have been issued for pedicab operating violations. Some of the tickets were for “open liquor,” she said.

“We’re being very cautious about the enforcement that’s issued—not wanting to stifle the industry. But that one, I said, `Yes. Go ahead’ “ with a ticket, Gressel said.

The pedicab ordinance was championed by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, a magnet for pedicabs.

Tunney said he needs more “qualitative information” about the licensing process before determining “if this trend can grow and prosper in Chicago and what the obstacles are.”

As for the 200-license cap, Tunney said it was an “arbitrary” number that can be “changed administratively” if demand turns out to be greater.

“It was concern about monopolies coming in and buying a large number of licensees to corner the market. That’s why we gave the requirement that only 20 percent can be owned by one entity,” Tunney said.

The ordinance approved last spring requires pedicabs to purchase $250-a-year licensesbut caps the number of pedicab decals at 200.

Besides the street and route restrictions, pedicabs are also required topost 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 must be at least 18 years old. They are prohibited from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

Pedicab owners have accused the City Council of “discriminating” against their form of “green transportation.”

They have 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 have contended.

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