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Council approves changes to rules governing pedicabs on city streets

Monday, April 23, 2012 by Michael Kanin

The Austin City Council has approved a number of changes to the rules that govern the city’s fleet of pedicabs. In general, the changes attempt to better define pedicab street operation. Though the idea of formal guidelines for driver compensation was discussed, the Council ultimately allowed that debate to remain open as they collect data about the rules changes over the next six months.


Council members also left open what promises to be a spirited debate over whether pedicab permits should be capped, like those of their motorized counterparts, and the question of whether the city should ban the trailer version of a pedicab permanently. “I don’t think that we can come to a consensus on those…issues,” said League of Bicycling Voters Executive Director Tom Wald. Wald is also an occasional pedicab driver.


The changes further include a mandate that pedicab operators purchase insurance and establishes a six-month moratorium on new pedicab permits. Along with the rules changes, Council members also approved a resolution that instructs city staff to come up with a set of markers that will delineate where pedicab drivers can “stage for rides.”


“It’s been 20 years since we revisited our pedicab ordinance,” said Council Member Chris Riley, who sponsored the resolution. “So this has been a long time coming. Twenty years ago we had about a dozen pedicabs on the street. Now we’ve got 341.”


The resolution offers a specific set of guidelines for how pedicabs should operate within areas of the city, such as Sixth Street, that are barricaded from motor vehicle traffic. The new rules also offer potential definitions of compensation.


Though the resolution passed unanimously, Council Member Kathie Tovo peppered staff with questions that illustrated a range of concerns. Tovo seemed to focus on a worry that the city’s taxicab and low-speed electric vehicle interests were not included in the process. In her questions, Tovo tried to carve out space for those stakeholders.


“Did you reach out at all to the taxi drivers association?” Tovo asked. “I say this because when we were addressing the issues that we’ve addressed in the last six months, I’ve heard concerns about pedicabs from taxicab drivers related to safety… (And) also requests that there be, as the city moves forward with designing maps and providing better way-finding, I’ve heard requests from them that those be integrated so that pedicabs, pedicab stands, and taxicab stands really are well integrated.”


Tovo also wondered about pedicab driver compensation. “In the past I’ve heard from people who feel that relying on tips in not necessarily best for the consumer,” she said.


Wall’s preference was that compensation be left to the pedicab operators and their drivers. “When you go up to a particular pedicab operator, they can have a number of options: They can either say that they accept tips for rides, they can negotiate ahead of time, or it’s a fixed, per block amount,” Wald said. “My thought is that that could be clearer to the customer – what they’re getting into – and I think that could help solve some of the problems.”


The pedicab issue is part of the wider picture of cab regulation in the City of Austin. Last fall, city consultant Ray Mundy unveiled a study that offered a comprehensive vision of the city’s downtown, for-hire transportation options. Among other conclusions, Mundy suggested that the city rein in the number of operating pedicabs and establish a moratorium until that goal was reached.


Riley told his colleagues that the number of pedicabs would reach 400 before the ban goes into effect.

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