A Chicago City Council committee will consider a new set of restrictions on pedicabs at a hearing this week. Many specifics of the proposal, introduced by 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, are unexceptional, but two provisions stand out as unnecessarily harmful to the pedicab market and consumer choice.
For one, the ordinance arbitrarily caps the number of pedicabs permitted in Chicago at 200, while giving the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection discretion to raise the cap later (through a “neutral” process yet to be determined). Depending on how the market for this service grows, this measure would reduce consumer choice for pedicab services for no good reason. Of course, markets don’t need caps – in any other industry, the supply for a good or service is governed by demand for that product. We don’t need Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection commissioners to establish how many coffee shops or car dealerships should exist in a city; the same logic applies to pedicabs as well. Any suggestion that a cap is needed to prevent street congestion is speculative; Chicago is a large city, and no one can predict with any certainty where pedicab traffic would grow in the absence of a cap.
The ordinance also restricts the areas where pedicabs can operate. It would forbid the operation of pedicabs in a significant portion of downtown: on Michigan Avenue and State Street from Congress Avenue up to Oak Street. It would further restrict operations between 7 a.m.-9 a.m., and 4 p.m.-6 p.m. in the Loop area: from the Chicago River south to Congress Avenue and east to Lake Michigan, in what is likely the largest market for pedicab services in the city. According to Tunney, this is supposedly because of public safety and traffic concerns, but there is no reason to think that pedicabs pose any special safety threat. In fact, they operate safely in that area now, and this restriction could destroy the jobs of the many cab drivers who work there. And of course, bicycles are not only allowed to be on the streets in the restricted areas, but are encouraged with bike lanes and the city’s Divvy bike program. Any alderman suggesting bicycling be banned on the same streets would face widespread public outrage. Pedicab operators pay taxes for the maintenance of roads, just like traditional cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians, and should be allowed the same legal use of the streets as everyone else.
The City Council’s joint Committee on License and Consumer Protection and Transportation and Public Way will be meeting to discuss pedicab regulation at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
You can support the pedicab industry by signing a petition to keep them in Chicago.