By Gus Saltonstall
A handful of pedicab drivers stood together on Tuesday at the West 72nd Street entrance to Central Park, holding up signs and calling out to tourists, offering rides through the park on the cold, but sunny morning.
Among those drivers was a young man who had only started in the business a few months ago, after a friend from his mosque told him about it.
“I want to be an entrepreneur, so it is like a stepping stone to that,” the driver told West Side Rag. He asked that we not include his name, in case it led to any “targeting from law enforcement.”
The driver’s fear of trouble came a week after a crew of NYPD officers advanced into the areas around Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building, and seized 77 pedicabs, one moped, two speakers, and issued 100 summonses, in an attempt to get illegal pedicabs off the street.
The vehicle seizures on December 13 took place amid a growing call for action spearheaded by Lower Manhattan Councilmember Eric Bottcher, for stricter enforcement surrounding the bike cabs. In a letter sent to multiple city agencies last week, Bottcher pointed to the loud music that pedicabs blast from speakers, and the occasions where riders, particularly tourists, are alarmingly overcharged, as first reported by Patch.
There are roughly 850 pedicabs in the city. That is the maximum number of the special licenses needed to drive the vehicles that the city can issue at once. Drivers must renew these licenses annually with the city, and those who want one for the first time must enter a lottery. On the Upper West Side, they are a common sight near the entrances to the park on West 72nd Street and near Columbus Circle on West 59th Street.
They are not illegal, but they do need to follow a strict set of bylaws as outlined by the city code. For example, they cannot be motorized or electrically powered; they must be registered with the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and have plates and stickers; and rate signs that state the charge per minute must be clearly attached to both sides of the pedicab.
“I just started driving a few months ago, but I’ve heard that some of the other drivers overcharge customers, up to like $25 a minute,” the driver WSR spoke to said. “When they overcharge customers, they make [all] pedicab drivers look bad, because customers don’t trust us then.”
He added that he doesn’t think the police are cracking down because of electric motors.
“I’m new here, but I think it is certain drivers playing loud music and also overcharging customers,” he said. He has heard that some drivers purposefully don’t negotiate rates beforehand, play loud music during the ride to make it challenging for customers to communicate with them, and then charge hundreds of dollars at the end of a relatively short trip.
Following city guidelines, the driver the Rag spoke to had clear $5-a-minute signs plastered to both sides of his vehicle.
“If we tell the tourists the price beforehand, that’s okay. But some of the pedicab drivers, I’ve heard, they don’t tell them the price up front,” he said. “So that’s the con right there. But if we tell the price beforehand, that’s not a con.”
Bottcher also mentioned examples of price gauging.
“One particularly alarming example involved a couple being charged an exorbitant fee of over $500 for a 20-minute ride,” he wrote in his letter, adding that “some pedicabs play music so loudly, it’s heard within theaters during Broadway performances.”
In terms of what will happen to the seized pedicabs, the NYPD did not respond to questions about where the vehicles were taken, what the process might be for the drivers to get their pedicabs back, and if the vehicle seizures will continue.
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