By Jen Benepe
The city council voted yes today on a measure to regulate pricing in the pedicab business in New York City.
The measure which was passed by the Consumer Affairs committee chaired by Councilman Dan Garodnick is likely to be given the go ahead by full council vote on Tuesday, then later by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Garodnick said in the meeting today that the new rules should put an end to the deceptive pricing and price gouging some consumers experienced at the hands of unscrupulous pedicab drivers this summer.
To see the Consumer Affairs committee in action, you can watch the video here.The New York City Council – Video.
Changes to regulations are long overdue according to some pedicab owners.
The council measure will require that pedicab drivers paint the price per minute for their rides on the side of the cabs, and use a timer on their cabs to record the amount of time being used with clear visibility for the passenger.
Peter Meitzler, president of Manhattan Rickshaw says that price per minute can be anywhere from $1 a minute and upwards.
And for many, the regulations won’t go far enough.
The new measures will help somewhat with the famous price-gouging that took place this past summer. Even with these regulations, there will be no price ceiling.
In one instance a family of tourists were presented with a $442 bill after traveling for 15 minutes, because of fine print on the rate card on the side of the cab that set a $100 minimum per person, and charged separate fees for side streets and avenues, as well as a sales tax, which was improper.
Drivers will still be able to charge whatever rate they want, but it will only be in a price per minute rate.
Using a median price of $2 a minute, a ride from Fifth Avenue and 59th St. to Broadway and 59th –about five blocks—would cost about $10. The city will not regulate how much a driver will charge, said Meitzler, and require a rate system that will nevertheless enable them to run special discount days.
“I was thinking of running a special $1 per minute rate for Post-Hurricane Sandy New Yorkers,” said Meitzler.
In anticipation of the new legislation, Meitzler is already preparing new rate cards to reflect his per minute rates.
Although there are a handful of responsible pedicab companies operating in the city, like Meitzler’s, the largely unregulated industry has given rise to rogue entrepreneurs whose rate tactics have come to resemble highway robbery.
And though one type of outright scamming will be eliminated by this legislation, it won’t eliminate all the risk that tourists and city dwellers alike with face when deciding whether to take a pedi-ride.
Consider the tourist who still won’t know how much a total ride will cost before they get into the pedicab. Meitzler said he and NYC Pedicabs Associationendorse the use of upfront quoting ride costs upfront, to be given on a driver’s
personally printed card so they cannot go over a certain amount.
But that important measure has not been included in the current bill, which has already seen three or four rounds of revisions to get to this stage.
Many of the independent drivers hail from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, and parts of Eastern Europe, a fact that is evident if you bother to speak to them.
Those drivers hold international licenses, meaning that tickets imposed by the NY Police Department for traffic violations don’t have to be honored thousands of miles away, and don’t show up on their driving records, which leads to an unfair business advantage because locally licensed drivers are held accountable for their tickets.
That creates an imbalance in the industry, where many of the rogue drivers (but not all Meitzler stresses) have come here on J-1 student visas, and work the pedicabs in violation of federal immigration law points out the organization formed to police its own practices, the NYC Pedicab Owners’ Association.
Federal immigration law defined several years ago that J-1 immigrants could not work entrepreneurial jobs that do not have set rates of pay, or provide health insurance. They also need to be enrolled in full time summer study programs.
An explosion of immigrants using the J-1 Visa, and only holding international licenses, have flooded the city’s pedicab industry.
The use of those drivers may also cause the denial of an insurance claim in the event of a crash, if at trial it is determined that such a driver was operating in the country illegally, regardless whether the city issues this driver a pedicab operator’s permit.
Some insurance companies, such as Lloyds of London, specifically stated in policies issued in the past that all operators must possess a valid U.S. motor vehicle license.
A teacher visiting San Diego in 2009 died as a passenger in a pedicab operated recklessly by a poorly trained J-1 student. As a result, the California state legislature passed statute AB 2294, requiring all pedicab drivers to hold a California driver’s license.
But such a measure is not being adopted in New York.
“The pricing pirates are ruining the industry,” said Meitzler.
“Many veteran NYC pedicab drivers, people who made it a labor of love, have given up driving due to the onslaught of poor public relations and angry customer feedback from passengers who have been ripped off by transient drivers, who care not a bit about longterm customer loyalty, originally our bedrock customer who loved the entire experience,” said the NYCPOA in a statement.
“It’s still the safest way to bike in the city, and a wonderful way to travel,” said Meitzler who advises that tourists get an upfront trip quote written on the driver’s business card, currently legally required anyway by city rules.
Passengers should also verify that the permit plate at the front of the pedicab is valid (the current color is blue) and that the driver’s name and badge number are visible, in case a pricing dispute arises.
At the end of the trip clients should ask for a written receipt showing the name of operator, their license number, pedicab number, business address and other contact information, all of which is required by current pedicab regulations.