Last Friday, when I was out pedicabbing, I encountered a semi-desperate taxi seeker, burdened with a large portfolio, on 6th Avenue in the low 20s. He needed to go to 48th & 9th. I said I’d take him there. He said, “No, you guys all charge like $5 a block! I can’t afford it.”
I don’t charge $5 a block. But what this fellow was responding to was the perennial problem of price-gouging in the NYC pedicab world. Of course, any driver of any origin is capable of setting an astronomical price. But drivers who make their living on these streets, year after year, have a greater interest in preserving the good name of their profession than those who swoop in for a season or two, make their money, and leave. Gregg – who’s been pedicabbing in NYC since 2003 – crafted the following note last summer, right after witnessing price-gouging in action.
Note: The Art of the Rip
Date: Aug 28, 2010
So I finally caught the flavor of the pedicab RIP by an illegal “student” pedicab practitioner. The perp was actually the punk who struck my stationary pedicab from behind quite purposefully as he rode by me a few weeks ago.
A foursome at 46th St and 6th Ave was seeking transport to Central Park. I pulled up and discussed the matter with the point woman. She clearly was keen to get rolling, but I wasn’t keen to take all four of them – two couples – by myself. Surprisingly, no pedicabs were in sight, so no pairing of pedicabs was in the cards. I left.
Heading up 6th Ave, I was distracted by a phone call from the shop. I plodded along, and at the stop light at 57th St pulled up alongside the same couples in pedicabs ridden by two kids from Bozostan (local pedicab-speak for an agglomeration of central Asian countries from which these illegal students are imported by the hundreds to wreak havoc). I said, “You guys got a pedicab after all!”
Yet I feared for their pocket books, so I followed them until they stopped two blocks up. They dismounted and asked the kid from Bozostan how much for the ride. He silently pointed to the rate card. They attempted to tabulate, and the next thing I noticed was the kid setting the price at $35 per pedicab – ostensibly a $5 initial fee plus $1 per block per person, give or take.
From behind the pedicab, I told the couple they could negotiate, but they coldly assembled the bills for the kid and went off.
$70 for these two middle-American-looking couples to score a pedicab ride from 46th & 6th to 58th & 6th from two Bozostanians.
I can only imagine what happens when the ride is 20 or 30 or 40 blocks!
The most obvious customer protection measure is to require the practitioner to present an estimate or actual quote prior to taking off, or forfeit any fees for the ride – or some variation thereon.
As well, 90% of all rate cards – those that rely on ill-defined measures of distance such as the ones deployed by these bozos – are legally dubious at best. Without consulting a map, or keeping vigil during the trip, how’s a local, let alone a tourist, to know how many blocks or avenues he’s actually traveled? The practitioner is better equipped than the passenger to proclaim a price prior to departure – yet he has little or no incentive to do so, if he is of questionable character, if not compelled by law. Pedicab drivers employing distance-based pricing ought to be required to install odometers, so the customer can confirm that he’s gotten what he’s paying for.
Finally, we know that 90% of these kids are operating a business against the express purpose of their VISAs. The feds recently confirmed this fact for me, via email.
These kids on student VISAs are illegally operating pedicab businesses in the streets of Manhattan, using questionable rate cards to rip off well-intentioned tourists left and right while the NYC Dept of Consumer Affairs lifts nary a finger to protect the people they’re charged with protecting. (Its motto? “Ensuring a fair and vibrant marketplace.”) Even worse, the DCA is now minting these illegal businesses, by the hundreds, every spring. At least before regulation, the city didn’t take the extra step of providing city business licenses to these illegal operators! In the past, the kids often were not brash enough to rip off tourists as a matter of course. Now, emboldened by city-authorized rate cards, the kids practice the art of the rip with impunity.
When does DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz finally face the music? It’s deafening out here….