New rules of the road possible for Chicago pedicab drivers

Chicago City Council set to vote Wednesday on regulations for the Chicago pedicab industry.

April 30, 2014

WBEZ/Tim Akimoff
File: A pedicab driver transports Chicago Cubs fans in Wrigleyville.

Chicago pedicabs could soon have to follow new rules of the road, much to the dismay of many drivers. The City Council is set to vote Wednesday on a slew of new rules and regulations for bicycle rickshaws popular around Wrigley Field and downtown. It would be the first time the city sets any regulations on the growing industry.

Many pedicab drivers say they’re for some regulation, but argue that the ordinance put forth by Ald. Tom Tunney (44) goes too far. Tunney’s measure is years in the making, and requires pedicab drivers to get $250 annual licenses for their cabs, to buy insurance, post fare schedules, apply for “chauffeur's licenses” to drive the pedicab and other changes.

But it’s the ban on driving on the downtown portion of Michigan Avenue and State Street, and rush hour restrictions in the Loop that has caused the most protest from drivers. At a joint City Council hearing Tuesday with the committees on License and Consumer Protection and Transportation and Public Way, many drivers testified that the bans would put a big dent in their finances, as downtown is not only where many of their patrons are, but it’s where they want to be dropped off.

“What health risk to pedicabs pose? What causes more traffic congestion - a double parked limousine? A 50 foot bus making a turn? Or a pedicab in a bike lane? Pedicabs should be part of the solution and not banned from downtown,” Chicago Rickshaw owner Robert Tipton said.

Nikola Delic, owner of Nick’s Pedicabs, is one of many drivers that argued that the ordinance discriminated against pedicab drivers.

“If the horse carriages and cab drivers can pick up their fares in the downtown district, I don’t see why the pedicabs wouldn’t be able to do the same thing,” Delic said. “Because horse carriages are blocking the same amount of traffic as one pedicab [and] they’re moving slower.”

Drivers submitted a petition Tuesday with over 500 signatures. It requests that aldermen take the entire street restriction section out of the ordinance.

Tunney has said that he’s open to changing portions of the ordinance, but the street ban is off the table.

“The ordinance, I believe, will help legitimize the industry, increase public safety and improve the flow of traffic on our congested streets,” Tunney said at the hearing. “There are...many good and safe operators but we’ve certainly had a few problems that this ordinance is designed to address.”

Commissioner Luann Hamilton from the Chicago Department of Transportation said the department would support reducing the restrictions, and they aren’t concerned by pedicabs riding on those streets.

Another sticking point for drivers is a rule that would cap at 200 the number of registered pedicabs allowed in the city. Drivers contest that this rule will kill off jobs, and that 200 is an arbitrary number, as there’s no official measure for the number of pedicabs driving around the city. The ordinance would allow for the number to be changed by the licensing commissioner.

The ordinance sailed through the joint committee vote, with only two "no" votes from Ald. Ariel Reboyras and Ald. Brendan Reilly. Penalties for violating the act could range anywhere from $100 to $5,000, depending on the violation or number of infractions.

Other pieces of the ordinance:

  • Drivers would have to get a doctor's note stating they’re capable to operate a pedicab and pass a geography exam before receiving their “pedicab chauffeur license”
  • All drivers must be 18 or older
  • Pedicab operators must have a valid automobile driver’s license - from Illinois or another state
  • Pedicabs aren’t allowed on sidewalks
  • Pedicabs are only allowed to carry four passengers

Tunney’s ordinance does not set fares for pedicabs, regulate where they are able to park or designate certain places they can hang out and wait for fares.

If the ordinance passes the full City Council Wednesday, the new rules and regulations would take effect by June.

Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian