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Pedicabs Coming Downtown? New Rules Headed to Transportation Commission

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, June 09, 2009, at 12:46PM
Perry in a Pedicab Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Councilwoman Jan Perry rides a pedicab during a 2008 trip to San Diego organized by the Bringing Back Broadway effort.

Pedicabs could soon be coming to Downtown Los Angeles, but new rules proposed by the city's Department of Transportation could be so onerous and confusing as to make the service unappealing to both riders and operators.

The rules govern everything from insurance requirements to the bikes that may be used and even the pants and shoes that operators may wear.

Pedicabs, or bicycle driven pedestrian taxis, are popular pieces of the transportation puzzle in cities such as San Diego and San Francisco. They act as short-range transportation for locals and a sightseeing platform for tourists.

In 2007, a pair of operators tried to start up pedicab operations that would serve Downtown. Eric Green started up Green Machine in August, but was shut down because he lacked a license to operate. Mike Echols, founder of MagiCab Express, was similarly stymied despite having worked for months to craft a proposal that would be legal under DOT pedicab rules passed in 1986.

Those rules were put in place to regulate services that had been operating in Venice and Westwood, but the report accompanying the new rules notes that "by the end of the 1980s most pedicab service within the City had been discontinued, and by 1992 the last pedicabs had ceased operation."

While the new rules purport to bring the city's pedicab regulations up to date, there are some questionable inclusions.

Pedicabs are required to have both seat belts and helmets for each passenger. The proposed rules include a $500 fine for pedicab operators found "transporting passengers without adequately secured helmets or seatbelt." That escalates to a $1000 fine for the second offense.

Some rules are confusingly vague. Similar fines exist for operating on a street with a posted speed limit above 25 miles per hour, but it is unclear how that would affect Downtown. Our streets do not have posted speed limit signs, but many have "prima facie" speed limits of 30 or 35 miles per hour.

The rules also require that drivers pick up and drop off passengers along curbs, complying with "all parking restrictions and prohibitions." It is unclear whether flexibility similar to that of the recently-passed Hail-a-Taxi program would be available to pedicab drivers.

Other rules are overly specific. A section on pedicab drivers states that "Driver must be attired in a shirt with sleeves, and a collar, pants or shorts (no sweat pants) with a belt and black shoes." The vague offense of "Failure to present a neat personal appearance" garners a $25 fine, plus immediate removal from service.

The new rules, proposed as Board Order 594, will be heard by the city's Board of Transportation Commissioners on Thursday, June 11, at 10am.

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