Power to the Pedicabs Bike-Based Human Transport Faces Growing Pains

Travel through certain parts of New York City these days, and you”ll see pedicabs zipping through traffic. Previously seen mostly in the developing world, pedicabs are foot-operated bicycle taxis that carry their passengers in open-air seating.

Pedicabs are pollution free and a positive alternative to regular taxicabs for short-distance travel. They also provide an alternative to walking for the elderly, children or people who are just plain tired. Pedicab fleets are found in numerous cities around the U.S. and the world, but have not always met with acceptance. The eco-friendly vehicles have been outlawed in Las Vegas, but are welcomed in San Diego and Long Beach, California.

Many cities have laws regulating pedicabs in some way, because they occupy a unique niche somewhere between the bicycle and the automobile. According to Steve Meyer, owner of Main Street Pedicabs—the largest U.S. manufacturer of the vehicles— “Pedicabs that operate without laws can sometimes lead to a chaotic situation.” He adds, “Pedicab owners have been approaching New York City officials saying they want regulations. The pedicabs can’t govern themselves.”

Gregg Zukowski, a pedicab owner and acting secretary of the New York City Pedicab Owners Association, says, “The industry has exploded in growth the last few years. Today, approximately 350 pedicabs garage in Manhattan, and more are expected to arrive this spring. Three years ago, there were fewer than 70.”

That growth led to the New York City Council introducing two new bills last summer, one of which would have restricted pedicabs from operating within Midtown Manhattan in “the interest of public safety and welfare.” That bill died in December. The second bill would require pedicab drivers to hold a state operator’s license and complete a training program. Every pedicab would also have to carry insurance, a license plate and undergo inspection every four months. A vote on that bill is pending.

The New York City Pedicab Owners Association, which became official this February, has established a code of practice for its members that is similar to the proposed law. According to Zukowski, “The industry desperately wants the right kind of regulations. And the bill currently in front of the City Council, all things considered, is very industry friendly.”

Meyer says he is working to set more universal standards for the pedicab industry, which he hopes will help it grow in the U.S. and beyond.