Sep 3 2010
Pedicab trial authorized by New Orleans City Council
September 3, 2010
The City Council agreed this week to authorize for-hire pedicabs in New Orleans, at least for a trial period of a year or more, but the action may have to survive a legal challenge before the pedal-powered rickshaws can start picking up passengers.
The council passed an ordinance legalizing pedicabs and setting rules for their operation on a 7-0 vote Thursday after an hour of debate in which opponents repeated familiar arguments that the new vehicles will take business away from taxicabs and mule-drawn carriages whose owners already are struggling financially.
They also claimed that the council’s Transportation Committee and its chairwoman, Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, failed to give them a proper hearing at earlier meetings or to seriously consider their objections. Palmer denied the objection, saying the issue was given months of review.
Such procedural arguments are likely to be prominent in possible lawsuits challenging the council’s decision.
Mike Tifft, an attorney for a group of carriage and tour companies, said Friday that his clients have not decided whether to go to court and, in any event, would not do so until Mayor Mitch Landrieu either signs the ordinance, vetoes it or lets it become law without his signature. The mayor has 10 days to act. Neither Landrieu nor anyone from his administration has made any public comment on the proposal.
Even if there are no delays because of lawsuits, it could take several weeks for the first pedicab operators to meet all city requirements and get their permits.
Both Alex Mata, owner of Good Old Days Buggies, and Patrick Murphy, president of United Cabs, the city’s largest cab company, told the council that the ordinance was being “ramrodded through” without adequate review or meaningful consultation with their segments of the for-hire transportation industry.
Tifft and Ike Spears, an attorney for United Cabs, also told the council the decision was being made without a new traffic study, even though a study done in 2001, when the idea was last under review, said the slow-moving vehicles would have a detrimental effect on traffic and safety, especially on the narrow streets of the French Quarter.
Tifft said, however, that the carriage and tour operators would drop their opposition if the council banned pedicabs from giving sightseeing tours and excluded them from operating on Chartres Street in the Quarter. The 700 block of Chartres, next to Jackson Square, is where carriages pick up most of their passengers.
Palmer said the law does not allow pedicabs to offer tours, but she made no comment on the Chartres Street proposal. The ordinance says pedicabs “shall be free to operate uninhibited in all parts of the city,” although they are banned on streets with a speed limit of more than 35 mph unless the street has a designated bicycle lane.
Supporters have said pedicabs won’t take business away from cabs or carriages because they appeal to different clienteles. They said pedicabs serve people wanting to travel only a few blocks, not the more lucrative long trips they said cab drivers prefer, and they do not provide the same “romantic” atmosphere as carriages.
Supporters also insist pedicabs won’t slow traffic in the French Quarter any more than carriages do.
With pedicabs already commonplace in many large cities, supporters have said New Orleans is one of the last major tourist cities in the world without such vehicles.
The ordinance sets a maximum of 65 pedicab permits, with no one owner or company allowed to have more than 15. First, however, there will be a pilot period of 12 to 24 months during which only 45 permits will be issued. After the pilot period, the director of the city’s Ground Transportation Bureau is to recommend to the council whether to keep the limit at 45 or expand it to 65.
Unlike an earlier draft, the final version of the ordinance does not set a minimum number of vehicles per company, opening the door for owners who would like to operate a single pedicab or a handful of them. They cost a few thousand dollars each.
Although operators are expected to concentrate in the French Quarter, some would-be owners and supporters have said they also may seek business in the Central Business District and perhaps elsewhere, such as on Magazine Street or around Tulane and Loyola universities.
Some French Quarter residents have suggested limiting the number of pedicabs allowed in that neighborhood, but the presidents of French Quarter Citizens and the Bourbon Business Alliance both urged the council to pass the ordinance.
The law sets a basic fare of $5 per passenger for the first six blocks of a trip, plus $1 per passenger for each additional block. Tips are permitted.
Each vehicle must have three wheels and be of “unibody frame construction” with headlights, flashing taillights and hydraulic, mechanical disk or drum brakes. They can be no more than 10 feet long and 55 inches wide. They must be powered solely by “the manual strength” of the operator; engines are prohibited.
Owners must have liability coverage of at least $300,000 for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage.
An earlier draft of the ordinance said the council would decide which applicants would be awarded permits, but the final version gives that responsibility to the director of the Ground Transportation Bureau, part of the executive branch, with appeals going to the council.
An amendment was added ordering the director to “make every reasonable effort to ensure” that at least 35 percent of the approved businesses are owned by “disadvantaged business entrepreneurs,” generally meaning women or racial minorities.
Bruce Eggler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3320.
Source: The Times-Picayune
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