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Proposed pedicab ordinance draws criticism

Thomas Barrows Chicago Ricksaw getting ready head out for Bulls game Uniter Center Chicago Friday May 10 2013. | Ting

Thomas Barrows of Chicago Ricksaw getting ready to head out for the Bulls game at Uniter Center, Chicago, on Friday, May 10, 2013. | Ting Shen~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 13, 2013 6:57PM

Chicago pedicabs would be capped at 200, required to post fares and potentially banned from congested areas, under a proposed licensing crackdown that, the industry warns, could stifle growth of a popular form of green transportation.

Robert Tipton, owner of 20 pedicabs operating as Chicago Rickshaw, said he has no problem with city regulation of an industry that’s operated unregulated on the streets of Chicago for years.

But Tipton argued that the ordinance introduced by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) goes too far.

Tunney wants to limit the number of pedicab decals to 200, with flexibility to raise the cap after considering the impact on the “safe and efficient flow of traffic.”

The Wrigleyville alderman also wants to require pedicabs to: post their fares; meet rigid safety standards including passenger seat belts; face pedicab impoundment if they violate city rules; provide proof of workers compensation insurance and purchase $250-a-year licenses and $25 decals.

“The City Council may, from time to time, define areas in the interest of preserving health and safety or avoiding traffic congestion in which no pedicabs shall be operated,” the ordinance states.

Tipton said Chicago should do any and everything it can to encourage this new form of transportation instead of restricting it.

“This is a non-polluting, emission-free vehicle. Every city in the world needs that...,” Tipton said.

“Everybody who tries it comes away smiling. It also serves a real purpose. Pedicabs fit into a bike lane and between cars. They can get where they’re going quicker than a cars. It’s an urban solution. There should not be any limit. You’re just limiting the ability for people to get around. There’s also a competition between taxicabs and pedicabs. Why put a limit on the under-dog when they don’t even know how many exist? What if there’s 300 citywide?”

Tipton was equally opposed to requiring pedicabs to post fares. Instead, he proposes a simple sign that states that fares are negotiable and should be arranged before the ride begins.

“This is a bicycle. If you have a strong head-wind or passengers who weigh more than others, the driver needs to be able to adjust that rate based on conditions,” he said.

A 15-minute ride can cost $10, $20 or $30 and that flexibility should be allowed to continue, he said.

“It’s a supply-and-demand type of deal. If there’s high demand, prices are higher. If it’s low, they’ll gladly take the ride,” Tipton said.

Tunney, whose ward attracts pedicabs because of the presence of Wrigley Field, was unavailable for comment.

In a statement issued by his office, Tunney argued that the ordinance is “long overdue” and “strikes a balance that will allow the pedicab industry to flourish while preserving safety” on Chicago streets.

“While pedicabs are a unique and green transportation option for residents and visitors, they are also the only business activity not licensed under city code. This ordinance will help legitimize the industry, increase public safety and improve the safe flow of traffic on our congested streets,” the alderman was quoted as saying.

Four years ago, a similar ordinance introduced by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley stalled after pedicab owners who lease their vehicles by the day and week were unable to worker’s compensation insurance for drivers who work as independent contractors.

Tipton warned that the same thing could happen again.

“Our drivers decide when and where to work and how much they’re gonna charge. We do not pay them. They pay us. We rent a cab to them on a daily or weekly basis. The insurance companies—when they go to figure out worker’s compensation costs, it doesn’t fit the mold,” he said.

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