New York City Council Hearing on Pedicabs: Report from the Trike Lane
On Friday, February 18, City Council member & Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Dan Garodnick held a hearing on the first fifteen months of pedicab regulation, and on four pedicab-related bills he is introducing to the City Council. The four bills would: make pedicabs subject to the same parking rules as motor vehicles; create a pedicab passenger bill of rights; institute mandatory pedicab driver license suspension and revocation for repeat offenders; and keep the window shut for registration of new pedicab businesses.
Here’s the report from the trike lane:
Although a local (quad-state or tri-state) licensing requirement was not officially up for review at the hearing, it did get a fair amount of air time. (Read this post for one explanation of why many in the NYC pedicab industry favor such a requirement.) Garodnick grilled both the DCA and the NYPD regarding ways in which the current regulatory situation might be placing holders of New York State motor vehicle licenses at a disadvantage. Inequities may apply in the processes of issuing and renewing pedicab driver licenses, and in the process of enforcing the pedicab law. Here’s how:
License issuing and renewal: To get a NYC pedicab driver license, an applicant must present either a valid NYS motor vehicle driver license, a valid motor vehicle driver license from another U.S. state, or a letter from a foreign embassy certifying that the applicant holds a valid motor vehicle driver license in that country. The DCA accesses NYS applicants’ driving records through the NYS DMV; applicants licensed by other states must present the DCA with abstracts of driving records from the DMVs of their home states. Each applicant from a foreign country must present a letter from his country’s embassy certifying that he holds a valid driver license issued by that country. Under cross-examination by Garodnick, the DCA spokesperson first claimed that letters from embassies did include driving records, but later admitted that she didn’t know this for sure. Garodnick asked her to find out. If it’s true that letters from embassies don’t include information about an applicant’s driving record in his home country, then foreign applicants – unlike American applicants – would have no chance of being denied a NYC pedicab driver license on the basis of past violations.
Law enforcement: When a NYPD officer stops a pedicab driver for an equipment check or for a perceived moving violation, he runs the driver’s motor vehicle license to review his driving record. At the hearing, the NYPD spokesman indicated that an officer could always get the lowdown on a NYS driver over his radio, could sometimes get it on a driver from another state, and probably could not get it on a driver from a foreign country, unless that driver had committed some extreme crime such as murder. One indicator that it’s much easier to get incriminating info on NYS drivers is the fact that 34 of 39 pedicab driver license suspensions have been imposed because it was discovered that the driver’s NYS motor vehicle license had been suspended. Garodnick asked the DCA to find out whether any non-NYS pedicab driver (other than New York Post expose subject Seydou Kone) has ever had his license suspended.
In response to Garodnick’s request for his position on the matter, the spokesperson for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade said that the taxi industry favors a quad-state licensing requirement for pedicab drivers. He said one reason the TLC requires a quad-state license is its certainty that it can adequately check records and access abstracts in the quad-state area. Before asking the DCA the same question, Garodnick mentioned the California law allowing a city or county to require pedicab drivers to have California state IDs or California licenses. The DCA refused to state an opinion.
Garodnick asked NYCPOA representative Chad Marlow which U.S. cities already have a local licensing requirements, and how it’s going in those places. Marlow didn’t have that information. (I recommend that any local-licensing proponent who does have that information get it to Garodnick’s office ASAP.)
The idea that the push for a local licensing requirement is anti-immigrant came up only tangentially at the hearing, but I would like to make the point here that its purpose is neither to discourage immigration nor to prevent immigrants from driving pedicabs. Any immigrant who has become a U.S. citizen or received a green card, and lives in the local area, would have no problem getting a local license. Pedicab drivers illegally operating under J1 visas, on the other hand, would have a hard time qualifying. (Driving a pedicab as a J1 is illegal because NYC pedicab drivers function as sole proprietors of their own businesses, not as employees.)
Of the measures actually on the table, the two that raised the most comment were the bill requiring mandatory suspension and revocation of pedicab driver licenses for repeat offenders, and the bill requiring pedicabs to abide by the same parking laws as motor vehicles. The DCA favors preserving the DCA commissioner’s discretion in suspending and revoking licenses, since it allows the DCA to remedy a violator’s behavior through re-education, and ensures that drivers won’t be too harshly punished for small violations. Pedicab driver Meredith Smyth said she’d hate to lose her livelihood just because (for example) her blinkers go “on the blink” a couple times. This is a valid concern, since pedicab drivers receive at least twice as many tickets for equipment violations as they do for moving violations. In response to Smyth’s testimony, Garodnick said he didn’t want any driver to lose her license just because of “blinkers on the blink.”
One alternative to requiring pedicabs to park like cars is setting up pedicab stands. Apparently, pedicab stands didn’t make it into the original law because the last DOT commissioner objected; the current commissioner may not object. (At the hearing, DOT rep David Wallach did say that pedicabs are “an important piece of New York City’s sustainable transportation network.” Then again, he also said he thought that if pedicabs were subject to motor vehicle parking requirements they would still be able to pick up and drop off at the curb “without hardship.”) In response to testimony by Smyth and another pedicab driver regarding the difficult logistics – both for drivers and the city – of treating pedicabs as cars for parking purposes, Garodnick said he could see that his team needed to explore further the mechanics of some of the bills, especially the one regarding parking.
The other issues Garodnick admitted needed further exploration were quad-state licensing and a requirement that pedicab drivers issue a fare quote to passengers before the ride begins.
No one objected to requiring owners to post a pedicab passenger bill of rights (although a couple drivers questioned its efficacy as a remedy for price-gouging). The only proponent of reopening the pedicab-permitting window was a fleet owner who’d lost his chance at permits because he’d failed to get his pedicabs inspected in time. In his opening statement on the state of the industry, Garodnick said that “safety and consumer challenges persist,” and that “all safety concerns” must be addressed before the window should be allowed to open again.
The takeaway? Judging from what I heard and saw at the hearing, I’m cautiously optimistic that a local licensing requirement could be in the offing. Also, it seemed to me that Garodnick had done his homework on pedicab-related issues, that he is committed to listening and responding to drivers’ and owners’ concerns, and that he is not going to let the DCA get away with half-assing their responsibility to look out for the rights of pedicab passengers and operators. Call me an optimist, but…I think the NYC pedicab industry might just be on its way towards better practices and higher standards.
P.S. Here’s a special bonus for all you NYC pedicab nerds – a delightful potpourri of stats, facts, and scrumptious tidbits from the DCA and NYPD reports on the past fifteen months of regulation:
During the 59-day application window, which ran from 22 September to 20 November 2009, the DCA received applications from 181 businesses for a total of 943 pedicab permits. 172 of the 181 applicants received business licenses; 889 of 943 pedicabs received permits. In 2010, 8 business owners holding a total of 38 pedicab permits failed to renew their licenses. Of those 8 businesses, 1 held 30 pedicab permits, 1 held 5, and 3 held 1 permit each. The license of 1 business, holding 1 pedicab permit, was revoked. A total of 107 pedicab permits held by 22 businesses have changed hands since permits were first issued. Right now, 163 pedicab businesses hold a total of 850 pedicab permits.
In 2009, the DCA received 474 applications for pedicab driver licenses and approved all 474. Of those 474 licensees, 231 failed to renew in 2010, 13 were denied renewal, and 39 had their licenses suspended. 34 of the 39 suspensions occurred because the DCA discovered that the pedicab driver’s NYS DMV license had been suspended.
A little subtraction shows that 191 of the 474 who received licenses in 2009 still had them after the renewal deadline passed in 2010. Now, 1528 pedicab driver licenses are in circulation. Which means that the DCA issued 1,337 new licenses in 2010. (Wow! That’s a lot of licenses.)
In 2010, 20 pedicab businesses were charged with carrying insufficient insurance. 4 of the 20 were fined a total of $36,500. 9 of the 20 settled. (Not sure what happened to the remaining 7. Either DCA didn’t say or I failed to take note.) 4 pedicab businesses were charged with violating driver-training and ticket-tracking requirements. 2 of the 4 were fined a total of $11,500.
DCA reported 2 pedicab-related incidents: After refusing to cover about $1,500 worth of damage to a motor vehicle, Ugdur pedicab company was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay restitution. Cyclecab Inc. paid motor vehicle owners for damage caused by a pedicab that slid on a wet roadway. No one was injured.
NYPD reported that the two most common moving violations for pedicab drivers are running red lights or signals and making improper turns.
So far, DCA has received 2 (2!) complaints from pedicab passengers about pricing.