Thanks to Loophole, Cheerios’ Downtown Pedicab Promotion Was Unsinkable

Why not promote your cereal with a vehicle whose wheels resemble it? Image: Cheerios

This morning, I was puzzled when I read a report that Cheerios was planning to promote its new line of high-protein cereals with a seemingly illegal activity: pedicab rides in the Loop during rush hours.

In April, City Council passed an ordinance regulating pedicabbers – and banning them from downtown streets. Under the new law, operators are prohibited from working in the Loop during rush hours, as well as on Michigan and State, between Oak and Congress, at all times. Pedicabbers say the restrictions are making it more difficult for them to make a living, and that the regulations are discouraging the growth of this environmentally friendly form of transportation.

Cheerios planned to have a crew of pedicabbers from local company Chicago Rickshaw offering free rides for people arriving at Union Station between 6 and 10:30 this morning. The commuters would line up on Jackson to be picked up by the bicycle taxi drivers on a first-come, first served basis, and then squired to any downtown destination. The pedicab operators would also be delivering free cereal to anyone who tweeted their location to @cheerios using the #CheeriosProteinChi.

Pedicabs are a great fit for this kind of event. Hiring the operators to make deliveries is probably cheaper than using motor vehicles, and companies want eyecatching vehicles for their promotions. And by placing its logo on the back of a pedicab, a company gets to associate its product with health, eco-friendliness, and good times. Meanwhile, Chicagoans benefit by having fewer cars and trucks on the street, and the passengers enjoy an unforgettable ride to the office.

It certainly would have been a bummer if Chicago-style overregulation had poured cold milk on the plan. Fortunately, a loophole saved the day, according to T.C. O’Rourke, a board member from the Chicago Pedicab Association [and a friend and former coworker of mine]. He pointed out that the ordinance defines as pedicab thusly:

“Pedicab” means a pedal-powered public passenger device used to provide transportation for hire upon which a person may ride, propelled by human power, and is constructed in such a manner as to allow the carrying of one or more passengers.

Since the operators would be providing transportation to the commuters for free, not for hire, the downtown ban didn’t apply, O’Rourke said. “By that interpretation, what we were doing was legal.”

O’Rourke worked as an independent contractor for Chicago Rickshaw this morning, and said the promotion went off almost without a hitch. A police officer briefly questioned one of about ten operators working for Cheerios, but no citations were issued.

O’Rourke said he taxied roughly 15 people to various Loop destinations. “It was great,” he said. “People love free rides, and they’ve got Cheerios. What’s not to like?”

What’s not to like is that the ordinance still bans operators from providing rides to paying  customers downtown. It also cuts down on their potential for earning money from ad revenue, since companies want their logos exposed to a maximum number of eyeballs. That kind of pedestrian density takes place in exactly the places and times where pedicabbers are banned.

  • Alex

    I’ve been saying for months that the city could get tourist money galore if they allowed those things back on the magnificent mile. The usual response is ‘ya but those streets are already so busy, that would make the situation even more crowded’. Yet everyone I know who drives already avoids those areas like the plague due to the high concentration of tourists. I think if the city legalized it most Chicagoans wouldn’t even notice. Until they saw it on the evening news and then it’s ‘That tourist loving mayor!’ *waves cane in air*

  • Anne A

    Love it!

  • what_eva

    Sounds like a dicey legal argument. Presumably they were being paid by Cheerios, so they were still providing transportation for hire.

  • Kevin M

    Great move by O’Rourke and the CPA, and a nice headline to your article, John.

  • Perhaps this is one of those ordinances that will eventually just be ignored because it’s stupid? Kind of like how alcohol is technically not allowed at the beach?

  • Zach

    I thought this law was not about consumer protection but rather about keeping pedicabs out of dense areas. I doubt this kind of thing happens much more without another serious conflict.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    You know, as a cyclist, I hate Pedicabs, they are some of the worst offenders of traffic laws in my experience. What do you get when you mix a cab driver, and a bicycle. Utter Chaos. Until they start behaving when they are riding around the city, good on the city for banning their stupidity out of the central areas. That’s just my opinion.

  • Alex

    That’s ignored? I’ve seen cops stop multiple people for that just in the past few months

  • JacobEPeters

    until we outlaw 2 ton vehicles who break the law equally as much as pedicabs, it still seems like a double standard. Why would pedicabs be outlawed without actuals motorized cabs being outlawed? Strip cab operators of their licenses for moving violations, regardless of vehicle, then we’ll see livery vehicles that actually obey traffic laws.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Well, I personally would not be opposed to that. But since this article was about pedicabs, that’s what I chose to comment on.

  • JacobEPeters

    I was commenting on how “Until they start behaving when they are riding around the city, good on the city for banning their stupidity out of the central areas. That’s just my opinion.” would be less of a double standard if it included “or driving” after “riding”. Because flaunting the law in a 2 ton vehicle is much more dangerous than flaunting the law in a pedicab. Trying to point out that banning pedicabs does not solve the problem of reckless road users, since it only lowers the boom on pedicabs, and not on other scofflaws.

    The article is equally about an unjust attempt to solve a problem through a clumsy ineffective ordinance.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    As a cyclist I don’t want those people around on pedicabs because I perceive that they directly increase the danger I am because they are notoriously scofflaw-y and piss off tons of people, thus causing people to have animosity towards cyclists, which they then take out on me, the next cyclist they see. I mean, I also don’t want cab drivers and tourists from Iowa around either because both groups drive terribly in the loop/downtown, but pedicabs cause road rage towards me in my view, and that is far more dangerous than people just driving aggressively. I can predict aggressive driving fairly well, I cannot predict rage.

  • C Monroe

    no the are consultants doing gonzo advertising, completely legal.

  • High_n_Dry

    Excellent way to subvert that silly ordinance! And I imagine tips are still welcome :) Well done, CPA.

  • Donald Smyth

    Alex – I can assure you, that it is ordinary cyclists who pull the most outrageous speed-demon moves in traffic that piss off auto drivers. Not the slower pedicabs. Thus, by your, Alderman Riley, and Mayor Emanuel’s (ill)logic, all cyclists should be banned downtown, including the tourists on Divvy bikes breaking the law riding on the sidewalks. Oh wait, Rahm is actually making money off those law-breakers so never mind them..

  • Donald Smyth

    While, admittedly, there are ‘bad operators’ on pedicabs that need to learn the rules of the road better, tell me you’ve never been stuck behind a 60-foot Hummer limo trying to turn/standing, stopped auto taxicabs picking up people in a lane, or lost tourists trying to merge & turn from the middle lane – these are all causing much more congestion downtown than an over-sized tricycle. So maybe we should restrict all wheeled traffic entirely from Michigan Ave. and make it a pedestrian plaza…I would bet my first-born that would truly bring tourist-money to town..

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been going the correct direction down a bike lane only to have one of these folk come at me in the bike lane, or seen them weaving all over grand avenue, side to side, its a miracle they haven’t been hit. They are the most unpredictable riders on the road, IMO. At least the speed demons are predictable. you never know what a pedicab will do…

  • Donald Smyth

    Well as a cyclist myself of over 10 years in Chicago, I guess we’ve had very different experiences. I see almost on a daily basis, entitled speed-demons blowing through red lights, causing right-of-way cars having to screetch to a halt, nearly causing a catastrophic accident. Often these cyclists even blow through at a diagonal to turn left, or worse yet, veer into the oncoming lane to move ‘around’ cars in front of them. Yes, there are bad pedicab operators who are rude and may hog the bike lane or ride side-to-side. But while that can be annoying, it’s not even close to the potential dangers of the many cyclists who refuse to at least yield/proceed with caution at red lights.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I hear a lot about those people, but I see them less often than I see pedicabs, perhaps because I live in Streeterville, and my commute takes me south to IIT, rather than on Cycle-mania Northside Roads.

  • Fred

    In my observation the cyclists you describe who don’t even pretend to follow the law are not normal cyclists, but bike messengers. They are fairly easy to spot; they ride junkers of bikes, usually fixies, have handlebars shaved down to width of their hands, and have messenger bags on their backs. I seriously don’t understand how there is not a bike messenger death once a week. In my opinion, THEY are the biggest threat to cyclists as a whole.


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