Banning Pedicabs on Downtown Streets Could Strangle the Industry

Antonio Bustamante at today’s Wrigley Field anniversary celebration. Photo: Matt Green

Members of the recently formed Chicago Pedicab Association say they can live with various rules and fees imposed under a proposed ordinance to regulate the city’s burgeoning pedicab industry. However, they maintain that the ordinance’s restrictions on where and when they can work downtown would drive them out of business.

In May of 2013, 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney introduced the ordinance regulating the licensing and operations of pedicabs to City Council, arguing that such legislation was long overdue. Tunney’s Lakeview district includes Wrigley Field, a popular place for pedicab operators to pick up customers.

After discussion of the ordinance with other aldermen, city departments and members of the pedicab industry over the last year, the legislation is finally moving forward. A joint hearing by the Committee on License and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Transportation and Public Way will take place next Tuesday, April 29, at 12:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers. The full council may vote on the ordinance that Wednesday at its 10:00 a.m. meeting.

“While pedicabs are a unique and green transportation option for residents and visitors to our city, they remain one of the few business activities not licensed under city code,” Tunney said in a statement. “While many pedicabbers are good, safe operators, we need to ensure proper licensing, consumer protection and public safety.”

The ordinance would require operators to obtain a license, at a cost of $250 a year, plus a $25 decal for their vehicles, which would have to meet safety standards, including being equipped with seatbelts. Pedicabbers would 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 would be capped at 200.

The dealbreaker for the pedicab association members is a provision banning them from operating during rush hours in the Loop, defined by the river, the lake and Congress, or from riding at any time on State or Michigan, between Congress and Oak. In his statement, Tunney says that the ordinance will help “improve the flow of safe traffic on our congested streets.”

CPA board member Antonio Bustamante argues that pedicabs don’t contribute to the problem of traffic jams downtown, and at ballgames and festivals. “There’s congestion to begin with,” he said. “We’re able to get in and out of congestion much easier because we fit between the traffic lane and parked cars, and we can get around stopped cars. We’re definitely part of the solution.”

Although Bustamante says pedicabbers can make good money working at special events like Cubs and Blackhawks games, he says the downtown tourist districts are their bread and butter. Numerous tourist attractions are located on State and Michigan, and he argues it’s virtually impossible to navigate the downtown grid without using these streets, since they’re the main two-way, north-south thoroughfares.

City officials have suggested pedicab operators use Columbus as an alternative to Michigan. However, Bustamante said accessing Columbus from the west requires pedaling up bridges over railroad tracks, tough work with a loaded vehicle, and the street is often closed to traffic for festivals, parades, and sports events. He noted that, while the ordinance is intended to level the playing field between pedicabbers and taxi drivers, there are no geographic or time restrictions on cabbies.

“If they’re going to pass the ordinance, at least remove the section about rush hours, and State and Madison,” Bustamante said. “I don’t have a big problem with the rest of it.” Tunney’s chief of staff Bennett Larson didn’t respond to my email asking whether the alderman would consider removing the downtown restrictions from the ordinance.

Bustamante owns two pedicabs, leasing the second one to another rider, and calls his business Kickback Pedicab. “I’m a safe operator, I already carry insurance, and I always tell my passengers what the fare will be in advance,” he said. He added that the 200-rider cap shouldn’t be a problem, since he guessed the new fees and restrictions will cause about a third of current operators to look for other work.

If the CPA can succeed in preventing the ban on downtown operations, Bustamente says he looks forward to continuing to work in the industry. “I spent 24 years working in luxury retail, and I enjoy the communication and salesmanship aspect,” he said. “It’s hard, honest work, and you get to spend time outside and be your own boss. It’s an opportunity to show people the city, and I get to be a tourist myself.”

  • 2_Hot-2=handel

    It’s true. These guys block whole lanes and make it impossible for cars and buses to maneuver around. They are slow, wild and dangerous. Unlike bikes who are quick and are able to share the road with cars and buses effectively. Addition, they love ripping off tourists.

    And most of them work stoned.

  • CL

    I think it makes sense to restrict them during rush hour, since obstructions (or slow-moving vehicles) lead to a lot of dangerous passing when congestion is bad. However, banning them on State and Michigan at all times seems like overkill.

  • Richard Ragnar Sammartino

    Michigan Ave and State St. should not have pedicabs banned from them, they should be building the cities BEST bike lanes there. There already are no parking, standing, or stopping on them.
    It’s weird how many see these street as express thru ways. No one feels safe biking on them, and they are both beautifull places to see and experience on a bike.
    How can you block traffic in a special lane for peddle transport?

  • Richard Ragnar Sammartino

    How about relaxing for two seconds and not dangerously start passing?

  • Richard Ragnar Sammartino

    Most riders are attentive and speedy in traffic. Those that aren’t have no business working as one and the licensing ordinance should eliminate them since most are working here illegally.

  • oooBooo

    So go the horse drawn carriages so go the pedicabs…. Try rickshaws next, then those coupe things with the poles that are carried by two or more people…

  • T.C. O’Rourke

    It is a small minority of operators who behave this was. Regardless, under the proposed ordinance they can be identified, fined $1,000, have their cab impounded and loose their license. To get a license will require a drug test, amongst a lengthy list of other requirements. There is no need to ban the rest of us from public roadways, particularly when we are being charged a ground transportation tax.

  • Mark Daugherty

    This is typically fake Chicago “progressivism” from Tunney, talking up safety while imposing crippling restrictions (not to mention expenses) on self-employed individuals that will likely drive many of them out of business. Basic licensing and a minimum set of safety standards are perfectly fine, but when your proposed regulations completely destroy a desirable (and largely non-harmful) group of businesses, you’re doing it wrong.

  • CL

    It’s not two seconds. When you’re stuck behind a stopped or slow-moving vehicle during rush hour, you’re stuck — often for multiple light cycles. Nobody else wants to let you into the other lane, and there are no long gaps because it’s rush hour.

    That doesn’t justify dangerous passing, which I don’t do anyway, but as long as this happens other people will do it — and sometimes the problem is just that two drivers go for the same gap at once. It’s safer if we limit the number of vehicles that go much slower than regular traffic during rush hour. Regular bikes are different because they can be passed more easily.

  • Richard Ragnar Sammartino

    Pedicabs are not that big, they are easy to pass as long as it is one. My cab is smaller than a bike lane and fits three seated.The ordinance will eliminate the oversized trailer rigs most likely.
    I work on my cab during rush hour because there is always someone who needs to get to Rush st from downtown or some such, I hit the Dearborn bike lane and pass traffic up fast. Not too many other riders do.
    The section five on it includes to lake front. How is riding Ghey Grant Park causing congestion?
    I hope they regulate but wait on the ban downtown and State and Mich. See what changes regulations make and move forward from there.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Maybe if Rahm’s brother invested in pedi cabs, instead of Uber, this wouldn’t be a problem.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Also known as a sedan chair

  • CL

    It seems like it’s a lot less of a problem when there is a bike lane — I wonder if it could be changed so that pedicabs would be permitted on streets with bike lanes at all times? Or would that not work out because they don’t connect?

  • Richard Ragnar Sammartino

    Smart attentive riding or driving is the key, for us all.
    On the bike lane subject, this has had me thinking hard today. Both State and Michigan should have them. Allready there is no parking, stopping, or standing there. These are the boulevards of downtown where people go to meet and shop. Yet drivers use them like expressways. Obviously the extreme move Mayor Burn did to State st was ridiculous back in the early 80’s, but bike lanes, real protected ones like in Europe, would make so many people feel safe to bike there , where so few do now. The biggest congestion problem I see in the streets daily is cars/cabs stopping traffic to let people in ir out, in places it is prohibited. Protected bike lanes would stop that, with a curb.
    Banning pedicabs from there will do little except generate fines for violations.

  • Interesting you bring up the State Street mall. I was a bike messenger back in the early Nineties, when the mall still existed and bikes were banned from State, which one of the problems with the mall. It was frustrating to navigate the Loop without biking on State back then. That makes it easy to understand how tough it would be to get around now without using either State or Michigan.

  • You know who else is blocking whole lanes? Countless other cars. This is a sustainable, low-cost, job-supplying transportation system that Alderman Tunney is attempting to ban in the name of “traffic flow”.

    “Traffic flow” isn’t an issue. Network (grid) congestion can be. Would network congestion improve if the 100s (1000s sometimes) of people transported by pedicabs each day were instead transported by more cars?

  • Kevin M

    And most likely, you were stoned when you wrote this. How else could a person come up with such a ridiculous blog handle?

  • Mishellie

    I really don’t think that a pedicab disrupts “traffic flow” any more than a standing taxi cab does. But i don’t see a cry to ban them from standing wherever the hell they want to at all hours of the day including in bike lanes and double parking.

  • Mishellie

    Cars don’t have a right to go the speed limit at all times.

    Not to mention… you know what slows me down on my personal bike? Cars that block my way because they’re incapable of forming straight lines in the lanes.

  • 2_Hot-2=handel

    It a nice classical music pun amirite?!?!

  • SP_Disqus

    “They are slow, wild and dangerous.” – yeah, that wide bike operating at 7 mph is super dangerous. I can’t believe that story about that person run over by the pedicab the other day. Weren’t there almost 1000 fatalities in Illinois because of people hit by pedicabs last year? If you’re a pedestrian just chilling in the roadway and there’s a pedicab a half block away coming at you at 7 mph, we physically do not have the ability to react fast enough to get out of the way. We’d have to evolve into quadropedal animals to get out of the way. I know a cheetah can do it but I’m not a cheetah. They are so dangerous. And don’t even get me started about the pedicab that totally crushed that family in their $60,000 SUV the other day. OMG!

  • Thanks for the support, folks. We have an online petition that we intend to present to Ald. Tunney and other City Council members at Tuesday’s joint committee hearing. Please sign & share! >>

  • 2_Hot-2=handel

    “that wide bike” that’s the problem. you are wide and slow. It’s obviously not about hitting pedestrians, so don’t try and distract from what the issue is, which is blocking cars and buses and operating in a reckless manner.

    That and the fact that most operators are nothing more than scam artists trying to prey upon tourists, charging $40 to go what unbeknownst to most tourists is only a 4 block trip.

  • R U Capitalists or Communists

    It’s hilariously ironic that most times the general attitude on this blog is anti-free market (with the exceptions of removing parking minimums) and strongly favors more government control when it comes to every other issue like parking maximums and mandating that every small project provide bike access regardless of cost. having alderman interfere with private business’s decisions about their building model and parking structures and having government designed streets and neighborhoods, telling people which store is okay for a spot and which is not (usually McDonalds type restaurants).

    All of a sudden a little regulation pops up that really will have minimal effects and everyone is up in arms about Big Brother gubbamint overstepping their bounds and how its going to ruin business and be a job killer.

  • forensicgarlic

    seatbelts? hm. I guess I should install one of those on my bicycle too. It’ll certainly help in a crash to keep me tied to a bike.

  • SP_Disqus

    I have yet to see a Streetsblog story about a reckless pedicab causing an accident so maybe you can provide us some links to back up your argument. If reckless users of a mode of transportation are grounds for getting that mode eliminated then cars will obviously be the first mode of transportation to go.

    I have no sympathy for drivers that have to slow down because a pedicab is in front of them. If waiting for a time to safely pass is too much stress or too difficult then you should stop driving because you are not good at it. The issues with traffic during rush hour in the loop or after games around Wrigley Field is not caused by a couple pedicabs. It is caused by the reality of too many cars in too small of a place at the same time. If you don’t like that traffic then do not drive.

    Regarding people getting ripped off by a pedicab, my experience the one time I rode one is that the fare was negotiated before the ride starts. If a fare is agreed to and the driver jacks up the price at the end and threatens the person to recover it, that should be a police matter. I have yet to hear of any instance from friends or news stories where something like that has occurred, but instances of cab driver scams like forcing people to pay with cash instead of credit cards are very common.

  • Mark Daugherty

    True enough. But I’m actually a closet left-libertarian, so at least I’m following the script. :-)

  • oooBooo

    ah yes, I couldn’t remember the term, thanks.

  • Peter

    So are the horse drawn carriages the City wants to get rid of. I find it interesting that there is so much backlash against the pedicab and not so much the carriage operators. These 2 parties should team up and fight the cause together.

  • Economics101

    This is a solution in search of a problem. Regulation isn’t necessary


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