Santa Monica is gearing up to hop on board with bicycle taxis.
Known by other names, like cycle rickshaws and pedicabs, they are akin to taxi cabs but are human-powered. They operate in 45 major U.S. cities and in dozens of others overseas. For the first time, they could come to Santa Monica—likely in commercial districts, such as downtown, Main Street and Montana Avenue.
But regulating them, could prove to be a headache for City Hall.
In June, a company named Trike Pilots Inc. applied for a business license to operate as many 20 pedicabs in Santa Monica.
The city "found no reason to not issue a business license, but we want to talk about what would be the implications of having this business in the city and how we might go about managing and regulating" it, traffic engineer Sam Morrissey, told the City Council on Tuesday.
"It would represent a new layer of transportation mode in our already multi-layered and somewhat congested traffic network," he said.
Pedicabs in California are currently regulated through the state's vehicle code, which classifies them as bicycles, so they would move with the flow of traffic on city streets or in bike lanes on those streets that have them, according to Morrissey.
If Santa Monica chooses to adopt more restrictive regulations, via business permits and an amendment to its local laws, it would look at background checking and testing drivers, mandating pick-up and drop-off locations, capping the total number of pedicabs, restricting areas of operation, requiring passengers to wear seat belts, and establishing uniform rates.
The tighter the regulations, the more work for the police department, code enforcement officers and administrative staffers. And, the more restrictions, the higher are the chances of the city exposing itself to lawsuits, according to a report from city planning staffers.
They say the vehicle code allows them to require drivers to do things: have a valid California driver's license, complete a bicycle safety training course and complete a driver's license examination.
San Diego has adopted regulations that "go well beyond these three requirements" and "has been subject to significant litigation since 2010, but none of those cases has received appellate court review," the report states.
Staffers said San Diego could serve as a model because it's the only city to have implemented regulations after the state amended the vehicle code two years ago to define pedicabs as bicycles and to narrowly address the role of cities and counties in regulating the pedal-powered taxis.
A Houston Press article from 2010 highlights the challenges posed by pedicabs, as descrbed by business owner Nate Lubke:
Among Lubke's chief complaints: Drivers who operate unsafe vehicles, drivers who are thugs, those who take advantage of intoxicated passengers to increase their nightly wages, and unsafe drivers, including one dropped and dragged a lady by her face and still had the nerve to charge her fare.
Lubke's complaints are scary, but they aren't as bad as other pedicab horror stories from across the country. Last summer in Brooklyn, four people were hurt in a bike cab crash, and in Seattle in 2008 a 60-year-old pedicab passenger died when the bike collided with a van. In 2007, a pedicab driver in California was charged with felony drunken driving after an accident that injured another pedicab driver and four passengers.
The Santa Monica City Council looked at pedicabs in 1998, when it adopted a year-long pilot program. But it never adopted an ordinance codifying operational and business license rules because no one took advantage of the program, according to staffers.
— Readers, what do you think about pedicabs? Would you ride in one? Are you worried about having to share the road with one? Should the city move toward lax rules or tight regulations? Weigh in by posting a comment below this article. —