Does LADOT Fear Pedicabs?

6_16_09_pedicab.jpgCount the number of dress code violations the LADOT would like to give this operator.  Photo:No Onions/Flickr

After a solid push from Councilwoman Jan Perry’s office, the City of Los Angeles is finally debating a proposal to bring pedicabs back to the streets of Los Angeles.  Pedicabs have proven wildly popular in a diverse amount of American cities, everywhere from San Diego, to New York, to Portland, to San Francisco.  While the city has had pedicab rules on the books since 1986, a pair of operators tried to bring the business to L.A. in 2007 and were shutdown.

Now, the LADOT has written up a list of new rules allegedly to help bring pedicabs back, but the rule list is so onerous and at times ridiculous that one can’t help but question whether they really mean it.  In its first report on the rules, Blogdowntown deadpanned:

but new rules proposed by the city’s Department of Transportation could
be so onerous and confusing as to make the service unappealing to both
riders and operators.

The new rules regulated everything from dress code, to routes, to helmet requirements for drivers and passengers and an onerous licensing procedure.  Fortunately, the Transportation Commission, a group of transportation planners that review many LADOT reports and recommendations before they go to the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee, was as incredulous at some of these rules as Blogdowntown and other cyclists.  They sent the LADOT packing until next month’s meeting, hoping that they come back with a competent piece of work.

At this point, one has to wonder why anyone listens to the LADOT when it comes to bicycling laws, rules or engineering.  The LADOT insisted to the Commission that state law required that bike helmets be worn by all riders, and passengers over the age of 18.  When the Commissioners noticed that no such law exists, in fact I can’t even find a mention of helmets for riders or passengers in San Francicso or other California cities’ rules for pedicabs.  And of course, the state’s helmet law for those riding normal bicycles only applies to those under the age of 18.  When the LADOT explained that their rules only required drivers to supply helmets, the Transportation Commission noticed the rules said the exact opposite of what the LADOT said they did.

While the Commission focused on the patently ridiculous, such as the helmet law and LADOT’s Amir Sedadi’s fear that Hawaiian shirts would take over the streets of Los Angeles, the LADOT’s licensing program is what could provide the greatest threat to pedicabs.

Specific wording in the permitting part of the application require that during licensing, all potential operators submit routes, maps, hours of operation and other parts of their business plan for review by the LADOT in conjunction with the local council offices and the LAPD.  What is of concern is that one of the things the LADOT is looking at is whether or not the proposed routes and hours will effect "traffic congestion" and "local businesses." 

Since we already know that the LADOT considers single-passenger bikes as traffic impediments, this language seems to imply that they will only allow pedicabs to operate on streets that don’t attract a lot of car traffic and don’t have a lot of businesses.   You know, just the sort of places that there won’t be any traffic for pedicabs.

It’s important for the Transportation Commission, and later the City Council, to deal with the LADOT’s theater of the absurd; but it’s more important that they go into the details of the program and make certain that this rules list for pedicabs isn’t just a secret plan to make sure a program never gets started.

  • PaulCJr

    Of course LADOT would do something like this. I swear everyday I starting to believe more and more LA just doesn’t get it and we’ll be stuck in traffic with too few walkable neighborhoods.

  • It was rather refreshing to hear educated critique coming from several of the Board of Transportation Commissioners to the LADOT team that put this Board Order together.

    Sadly, a lot of time was spent on the LADOT’s bizarre requirements (and subsequent lies) about mandatory helmet use by passengers and the dress code requirements.

    What needs to be in the actual Board Order that will be adopted:

    -Pedicab territories with a limited number of licenses to allow operators and those that lease cabs to operators to earn a livable wage. Income reporting can take care of this issue.

    -Specifications that require well-made cabs (and not hitched together pieces of crap made in TJ and shipped up north to make a cheap buck).

    If the pedicab operators are protected from exploitation at the hands of those who would lease them cabs, then LA would have a professional class of cyclists plying its streets. Without this sort of protection, pedicab rental houses make a living flooding an area with cabs and amateurs (usually foreign students on a special visa), making money off of the rental and not allowing full-time operators to earn enough to live.

    Lowering the insurance requirement would also be a great thing – $1 million in liability insurance can cost $2,000 to $3,000 per year, up front. $300,000 would be a solid deal and would provide the basics in case the cab mechanically fails or is hit by a car.

    Instead of requiring a pedicab operator to have a driver’s license, it would be better to require that a pedicab operator take the League of American Bicyclist’s “Road 1” (or equivalent) course – to learn how to properly operate a human-powered device in the public right of way.

    Anyway, kudos to the Board of Transportation Commissioners! Big boos and a flung booger at the LADOT (once again).

    p.s. It was fun to hear Rita Robinson tell it like it is when she said that she lets, “the council know that [she doesn’t] care what they think”. Ah, candor! How refreshing! I wonder how she feels about what the general public thinks?

  • Chesley Sullenburger

    When will we have our Janette Sadik-Khan moment?

  • The following is my response to the mechanical requirements in the LADOT’s proposal.

    Section II Minimum Requirements:
    A) Pedicab – Non-Motorized each vehicle shall be equipped with:

    1) A headlight powerful enough to reveal a person or vehicle at a distance no of not less than 100 feet when the vehicle is operating at any speed less than 25 MPH and at a distance of not less than 200 Feet when operating at speeds of greater than 25 MPH.

    (There is no non-motorized pedicab that can be propelled by a human to a speed any where close to 25 mph. Typical top speeds are in the 15 MPH range. LADOT rules should reflect what is humanly possible.)

    2) A unique serial number (indicia) assigned by the department shall be permanently stamped onto the crossbar portion of the bicycle. That serial number shall also be stamped in to a tag or small metal plate that shall be permanently affixed to the passenger body of the pedicab. Such numbers shall be clearly legible in normal daylight from a distance of 5 feet.

    (They want to put a huge stamp in to the crossbar visible from 5 feet away? This could potentially weaken the structure of the bike, making a structural failure more likely in that area. How about a sticker?)

    3) A disc brake system on the rear wheels and “V” brake system on the front wheels. The brakes shall be capable of locking at least 2 wheels and stopping a vehicle traveling up to 20 miles per hour with out pulling the vehicle to either side.

    (Why would they mandate an inferior braking system on the front wheel?

    Also there is not going to be a way of testing this as non-motorized pedicabs cannot be propelled by a human up to the speed of 20 miles per hour. If they want the brakes to be able to stop the vehicle while loaded and going down a hill, why don’t they just specify this?

    A better way of specifying braking performance would be to require the fully loaded vehicle to be propelled up to normal speed (8-10 mph and stopped. If stopping distance exceeds 10-15 feet then the brakes are not strong enough.)

    4) A parking brake capable of being applied separately from the main braking system. The parking brake shall be such that the vehicle remains stationary under all conditions of loading on any grade upon which the vehicle is operated.

    (…Shall remain stationary on under ALL CONDITIONS of loading on ANY GRADE the vehicle is operated?

    An entirely vague specification is no specification at all.

    Why don’t they just define the conditions, 5% grade 200 pound person getting on and off etc.

    There is an obvious problem though. That being that there is no pedicab made anywhere in the world that has a separate parking brake capable of meeting this requirement. The current standard is to have brake lever(s) that lock. These brake levers are part of the primary braking system. Current production pedicabs generally have one locking brake lever, not two, if they have them at all. This requirement world likely prevent any currently produced pedicab from being able to get licensed in L.A.)

    6) Rear view mirrors? Seriously, cyclists look over their shoulders.

    9) A license plate? No such thing for a bicycle unless the LADOT starts issuing them.

    10) Secure seating for the driver? What does this even mean. It seems to me that this does not need to be legislated.

    12) Seat belts are going to place the passengers in greater danger unless there is a roll over protection system. See http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-01/esv/esv19/05-0431-W.pdf for additional information.

    13) Horn? How about a bell?

    Seriously, if the LADOT wants to allow pedicabs to operate they need model their ordinances after those that are already in place. A small collection of those ordinances can be found here:

    http://austinpedicab.org/2009/04/23/pedicab-regulations-and-ordinances-around-the-usa/

    LADOT is making their own job far too hard. They are also making it such that it would be impossible to legally operate a pedicab in LA. It is admirable that they want to assure the safety of the pedicab using public. It is clear to me that they do not have a strong understanding that most human powered pedicabs generally do not travel at a speed greater than 12 miles per hour when carrying passengers. Most pedicabs are geared such that they cannot be pedaled to a speed greater than 15 miles per hour by an athletic human.

    LADOT should drop the electric assisted pedicab proposal. Current battery technology is no where near the required power density to allow such a far heavier and more complicated vehicle to be operated profitable. Electric pedicabs were determined by London officials to be unsafe. Why would the same technology be safe in LA? A sensationalist news report on this can be found here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMc-BGBCSDw

    -Ken Cameron
    http://austinpedicab.org

  • Felipe Azenha

    I went through a similar process with the City of Miami Beach for 5 years.
    The City of Miami Beach did everything in their power to make it
    unprofitable for pedicab operators to operate a business. Eventually the
    City Manager, Jorge Gonzalez, realizing he could not stop pedicabs from
    operating issued an ”Administrative Policy(???)” that said “due to a public
    safety issues” pedicabs would not be allowed to operate on any of the major
    North/South thoroughfares. For anyone that is familiar with South Beach
    Collins Avenue, Ocean Drive, and Washington Avenue, were consider hazardous
    to the public’s safety. These are the streets where all the tourists
    congregate. Ludicrous regulations such as helmet requirements were also
    included in the pedicab ordinance. Good luck to those in LA!

  • Bob

    Take it from a San Diego resident: KEEP THE PEDICABS OUT.

    They are a hazard in already crowded traffic, about 70-90% of the time they are empty and just taking up space, and all of them are covered with advertising.

    Does LA need worse traffic and more advertising?

    Oh and you can take it to the bank they are mostly off the books operations, not even paying for the city services they consume.

    Here in San Diego they are such a problem that efforts are being made to restrict them.

  • Pedicab

    This kind of problem leads me to believe the only solution is individuals adopting the “Ask for forgiveness before permission” philosophy. A single Pedicab Trailer would cost around 4-800 dollars, and unless a police officer felt strongly enough to ticket or confiscate a trailer, individuals intelligent enough to run their private business safely without causing the chaos it seems LADOT envisions would be the evidence needed to make a case FOR positive legal support of pedicabs. Of course, with all of Los Angeles under a single committee’s juristiction it is hard to make blanket laws that are feasible and would allow a small business to profit. As of now, Pedicabs are hard to find so the public assumes they are illegal. In reality, they are just not supported from an official stance. If I walked into the chamber of commerce and asked who to apply for a pedicab operator’s license, I would be directed from one desk to another until I would certainly deem the experience not worth the time. But starting a personal business investment with INTEGRITY first and bureaucratic regulations second is an entrepreneurial right, especially in america.

    If you want to see Pedicabs, fight the hassle, not the law. Demand to be explained clearly and concisely and keep a record of contradictions.

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