Culture News

City of Scottsdale to Regulate Popular Nightlife Pedicabs

If that skinny pedicab driver giving you a lift to some trendy Old Town gin joint this weekend seems bummed out, it's only because he'll soon have to conform to a new ordinance passed by Scottsdale's city government earlier this week.

And you might wanna consider giving him an extra big tip after you're dropped off, because it's possible that he could be out of a job in less than a month unless he's got a valid driver's license, has liability insurance coverage, and meets other requirements under the new law.

See Also: - Clan of the Bike Men: As Downtown Pedicabbers Battle for Turf and Tips, Major Operators Say City Regs Would End the Mayhem

Operators of pedicabs, also known as cycle rickshaws, had been under increased scrutiny by Scottsdale authorities after an accident involving a pedicab injured three people, one of them critically. Late Tuesday night, the Scottsdale City Council unanimously approved an ordinance putting stricter regulation on pedicabs in the hopes of increasing safety.

According to Scottsdale Assistant Police Chief John Cocca, the impetus of the new law was an accident on January 4 in which a cycle rickshaw carrying a pair of Kansas tourists in town for the Fiesta Bowl was hit by a drunk driver along Scottsdale Road near McDonald Drive.

One of the pedicab's passengers, 21-year-old college student Cody Clark, has been in a coma since the accident, in which he suffered severe head trauma. Phoenix resident Joseph Spano was arrested and charged with endangerment, driving under the influence, and aggravated assault.

Cocca told Jackalope Ranch that the ordinance was created in part to help reduce the possibility of such an accident from occurring again.

"What it was designed to do was provide safety to the operator and safety to the patrons that utilize the pedicabs," he says.

Under the ordinance, which goes into effect on May 8, pedicab operators and their rides (both of the three-wheeled variety or two-wheeled bikes hauling trailers with seating) are required to meet a laundry list of more than a dozen requirements in order to work the streets of Scottsdale's nightlife district and downtown area. Those who run afoul of the new law risk hefty fines and (for repeat offenders) the possibility of jail time.

Per the ordinance, which is similar to pedicab laws already in force in Phoenix and Glendale, operators must posses a valid driver's license and have a general liability insurance of at least $1 million in coverage.

According to Terry Gruver of the city's transportation commission, the license requirement is intended to keep those with a history of traffic law violations from operating pedicabs.

"It was described as a way to ensure a certain level of responsibility, that there are responsible people out there operating the pedicabs," Gruver says. "It was the commission's opinion that the ordinance in and of itself, as well as the insurance requirements, offered that level of responsibility. It was additionally described to us as a way to keep lawbreakers from operating a pedicab."

The law also mandates that those charging set fares for rides must also obtain a business license from city officials, although operators working for tips only are exempt.

Cocca says may not operate on roads with posted speed limits greater than 35 miles per hour.

It limits operators to two-lane and side streets instead of major thoroughfares (Scottsdale Road, for instance), with the exception of those with designated bike lanes. Combined with the ordinance dictating they can't travel north of Camelback Road, rides essentially are limited to Scottsdale's entertainment district.

Cocca says that the common practice of "piling on" as many riders as possible onto the cab also will become forbidden under the ordinance, as only one person per seat available will be allowed. Cycle rickshaws also must meet certain size requirements in order to get through Old Town's oft-congested streets, as well as have reflectors and lights on the front and rear and be in good working condition.

Curiously, the ordinance also includes mandates that aren't necessarily related to public safety inasmuch as preventing public nuisances or potential eyesores. It's now also illegal, for instance, to leave pedicabs locked up to public bike racks overnight and to sport any torn upholstery or anything unsightly or rusted on rickshaws.

The many cycle rickshaws in Scottsdale that utilize boomboxes or sound systems to blast Top 40 or EDM at cacophonous levels during a ride will have to keep things down to a dull roar. Specifically, the loudness level can't exceed a 50-foot radius surrounding their pedicab at any time.

Scofflaws caught disregarding any part of the ordinance face at least a $150 fine for the first infraction, while second-time offenders will pay anywhere from $300 to $750 fine and could potentially spend a maximum of four months in jail (although Cocca admits such a punishment is "unlikely").

Needless to say, the ordinance and its penalties have some cycle rickshaw drivers wary of working in Scottsdale after it goes into affect, particularly those who don't have a driver's license or can't afford insurance.

One pedicab operator, who spoke to Jackalope Ranch on the condition of anonymity, says that the ordinance will "fuck over" those like himself who aren't legal to operate a motorized vehicle.

"I had a DUI. I paid off all my fines. I went to all my classes, but I still have a suspended license because I have yet to get a car here in Arizona," he says. "And I choose not to, because I don't need one. I'm a fucking cyclist."

The operator also believes that a certain number of pedicab drivers who aren't in compliance with the ordinance like himself might risk the fines and running afoul of the law in order to earn a living.

"It's a possibility. I know that if something gets implemented, it's not like you're going to turn a switch and the rickshaw scene's gonna change," he says. "We're just guys hauling people around, just trying to help people out and make a few bucks."

Overall, however, he says the ordinance will "thin out" the number of operators rickshaws in Scottsdale, particularly independent drivers who aren't employed by pedicab fleets like Robbie's Rides or Pro Pedal Cabs, two of the bigger companies working the city.

"I do think that it will cut the rickshaw force, probably about a fourth of it, because of people paying off fines or they don't have a license or whatever else. I've heard that the blanket insurance for a fleet is a lot more economical than the individual insurance for an independent."

One such independent driver who probably won't work in Scottsdale after the ordinance goes into effect is Jim Hesselink. The 50-year-old Valley resident says that the $200 to $300 he makes in a single weekend isn't enough to justify carrying the level of liability insurance that's required for independents, which is estimated to cost anywhere from $1,500 or more annually.

"I'll probably just move," Hesselink says. "I'll just go to a different city or another state like Seattle or Chicago. Those cities aren't regulated at all. It just seems kinda strange that a big huge city like Chicago has had [pedicabs] for longer than they've been in Scottsdale and they don't really see a problem or feel laws are necessary."

Jay Ewing, owner of pedicab company Big Papa Human Powered Transportation, says good riddance to operators who don't want to do things legally.

"I used to believe that [pedicab operators] could do this job without a driver's license 'cause they're riding a bicycle and not a motorized vehicle," Ewing says. "But so many of those people just don't have a care or concern for safety. There's a reason why they don't have a license. There don't have respect for the business or respect for the laws of the road."

Although he disagreed with a "few minor portions" of the ordinance requiring mirrors, which was ultimately cut from the regulations, Ewing says he supports it.

"[Scottsdale] isn't forcing me to do anything that I as a business owner am already doing. I already have insurance. I've had it for 11 years. It's all the other riff-raff that are out there that ruin it for the rest of us," Ewing says. "A lot of 'em with suspended driver's licenses, a couple of 'em who never got one by choice, or are angry with the government."

Ewing, who has run pedicabs in Scottsdale since 2002, also believes that the ordinance will keep independent drivers away from Scottsdale. He also claims it will weed out some also some alleged "shady characters" who operate pedicabs.

"I've been in Scottsdale for 11 years. I was the first guy to show up. I've watched all these other companies [and] independents, those who don't do right by the law, come into my industry and diminish it. But there are also a lot of tweakers in this industry; there are a lot of alcoholics," Ewing says. "I'm actually happy that some form of ordinance was passed. Mandatory driver's license is a great way to make a lot of that disappear."

Robbie Henderson, who owns a fleet of 19 pedicabs operating in Scottsdale through his company Robbie's Rides, thinks it's unfortunate that some drivers won't be able to work a rickshaw after May 8. In fact, he says, for some folks without a driver's license, working a pedicab is the only job that they can get.

"Being a businessman, it's in my best interests to have drivers that are legal. But before that, I'm a human being, and I don't want to see people that have families in the welfare line or jail or the kids going to CPS. I'd rather they be working and try to take care of themselves. Where else would you want them to be? Would you want them to be out working or out robbing?"

Henderson asked city council members on Tuesday night to consider creating a pedicab operator's license instead of requiring a driver's license.

"I want to have rickshaw people recognized as their own class of drivers. You can't ride a motorcycle without a motorcycle license. You can't drive a semi without a specialized license. So why should you not have an operator's license to run a rickshaw?" he says.

"They want you to have a driver's license to ride a bicycle, a non-motorized vehicle. That just don't make sense to me. Then they want you to pay for up to $2 million in insurance coverage, which is the same as any taxi cab, and you're only limited to where you can ride, so you don't have the same options as a taxi cab to recover your money. It's just doesn't add up."

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.