By Michael Bielawski
New york city’s pollution-free transportation workers are once again gearing up for a fight with city government for rights to the road. After a rare veto by Mayor Bloomberg March 30 to the pedicab regulation bill intro 331-A, the city council voted 37-6, with 2 abstentions and 5 absences, to override the mayor’s decision april 23. The bill caps the number of pedicab drivers to a total of 325 and limits specific types of bicycles allowed to provide transportation services. Critics allege the yellow taxi lobbyists are influencing the city council.
Pedicabs, or man-powered tricycle taxis, have been in New York for 10 years. Many drivers are artists, writers, actors and activists just getting by. New Yorkers and tourists embrace pedicabs because they offer a unique cultural experience and are pollution-free. The 500 plus pedicab employees claim a near perfect safety record. “The initial response from the pedicab industry has been outrage,” said Gregg Zukowski, founder of Revolution Rickshaws. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a possible future candidate for mayor, strongly supported the legislation. last year Quinn supported an unpopular bill, which was not passed, that would have banned pedicabs from Midtown Manhattan and eliminated 90 percent of potential business.
The New York Daily News reported April 16 that Quinn is “neighbors and pals” with taxi lobbyist, Emily Giske. Giske works for the lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns, inc., which represents the committee for Taxi safety. Bolton-St. Johns services include “developing strategic plans for the passage or defeat of legislation.” Quinn would not refute the widespread allegations. “There’s nothing wrong with the taxi industry making their position clear on this bill, and there’s nothing wrong with talking to the taxi industry,” she said in the April 24 Village Voice. “There was no undue influence here at all.”
“I think we need regulation, but the city council went too far,” said driver Patrick Manza. For example by restricting pedicabs from bike lanes, it will effectively ban the popular seven-person party bikes. The proposed ban on electric bikes would put many older drivers and people with knee problems out of work.
The bill’s requirement for a New York state driver’s license would force many foreign-born workers out of the business. “This is the only job I can do and be able to make enough money to support myself in New York,” said an anonymous driver. Bicycle fleet owners are upset by the bill’s requirement to take out $2 million in insurance – doubling it from $1 million – and are worried that the New york city Police Department’s new power to restrict pedicabs on midtown Manhattan streets for 14 days at a time would be a crushing blow to business. “It could put me out of business … the police powers to ban us over christmas alone could slash a third our income,” Zukowski said. He says there is talk of suing the city government or getting a “temporary restraining order” to prevent police from using what he feels are unconstitutional powers to limit pedicabs.
The Department of consumer affairs is charged with creating a lottery system for determining the 325 permitted drivers, as mandated by the new legislation, and could especially hurt independent pedicab owners like Mark Davis. “if there was a lottery and my one entry didn’t win I would be out of work and would still have to pay a lot of money for parking [my pedicab].” Pedicab driver alvaro De Prat said, “This is more than just a job for me … this is a way for me to spread happiness and knowledge to my passengers from around the world.”
Michael Bielawski is a NYC pedicab driver. He can be reached at Bielawski82@yahoo.com.