City Council Takes a Step Backwards, Bans Pedicabs in Loop

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Pedicabber Minku Sharma at the post-vote Rally. Photo: John Greenfield

At today’s City Council meeting, an ordinance regulating pedicabbers – and banning them from downtown streets – passed with almost no opposition. Operators say that the new rules will put them out of business, since they’ll be prohibited from operating in the Loop during rush hours, as well as Michigan and State, between Oak and Congress, at all times. The law, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised, goes into effect on June 7.

Alderman Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, sponsored the legislation. Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) pushed for including the geographic restrictions after downtown business and neighborhood groups complained to him about what they perceive to be a pedicab menace.

In addition to the Loop ban, pedicabbers will be required to obtain a $250 annual license and a $25 vehicle decal. Pedicabs will have to be equipped with seatbelts and meet other safety standards. Operators will need to carry liability insurance and post their fare structure on their vehicle, instead of negotiating the price before or after a ride. The number of operators in the city will be capped at 200.

At a hearing on the proposal yesterday before the city’s licensing and transportation committees, Alderman Rey Colón (35th), not a committee member, noted the city has not done traffic studies indicating that pedicabs cause downtown traffic problems, so the decision to ban them is “subjective.” A Chicago Department of Transportation rep said CDOT feels the geographic restrictions are unnecessary.

Despite passionate testimony from some 20 operators and advocates, the ordinance passed in committee, opposed only by Alderman Ariel Reboyras, who called it a job killer, and Reilly, who wanted to see a rush hour ban in River North as well. Former CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein tweeted his dismay at the news:

Early this afternoon, the full council passed the ordinance with no discussion or voice vote. Alderman Danny Solis (25th) was the only no vote, according to spokeswoman Stacy Raker. “The ordinance will impose harsh restrictions on pedicab operators,” she said. “The alderman believes that we need to take another look at what these restrictions will do to the pedicab industry which is, of course, a green form of transportation.”

After the vote, Emanuel told the Sun-Times the ordinance is a step forward for the city. “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… If there’s other things we need to do as it relates to the industry, we’ll come back.”

Tunney, Reilly, and Colón didn’t return calls this afternoon, but Reboyras said he abstained from voting today. “I didn’t need to. I voted no in committee and that’s going to stand,” he explained.

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Alderman Reboyras speaks with pedicabbers after the meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

After the meeting, Reboyras joined a handful of dejected pedicabbers at a rally outside of City Hall, promising to advocate for them as they work to reform the ordinance. “I feel for the pedicab industry,” he told me. “These are jobs that we’re taking away from people, and I strongly support them working where they need to. I’m hoping that we can bring it back to committee and do an amendment.”

T.C. O’Rourke, a board member with the Chicago Pedicab Association, noted that City Council approved a plan on plastic bags at the meeting. “The mayor specifically talked about Chicago being the cleanest and greenest city in the country,” he said. “But at the same time, [the council] basically destroyed the pedicab industry here, one of the cleanest and greenest forms of transportation.”

He said that CPA doesn’t have a problem with the ordinance, except for the geographic restrictions, and they are exploring options for overturning them. He recently purchased a new pedicab for $5,000. “The value of that investment has been greatly reduced.”

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Zorayda Ortiz tries out T.C. O’Rourke’s new pedicab. Photo: John Greenfield

Zorayda Ortiz, who runs Pilsen Bike Tours, thought a letter she wrote to Solis asking him to vote against the ordinance might have influenced his decision. “These rules will drastically affect our income,” she said. “For them to say that this ordinance is increasing public safety is false. Pedicabs are very safe vehicles. If I’m going to be paying $275 a year in fees and licensing, I should have the right to operate on any street in the city.”