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City Council Wants Taxi Meter-Style Timers in Pedicabs

By Jill Colvin | October 19, 2012 11:56am

CITY HALL — The City Council is trying to crack down on the pedicab industry by mandating that they all be equipped with timers and charge only by-the-minute fares.

City Councilman Dan Garodnick said the proposed new rules are meant to put an end to “Midtown’s Wild West,” in which pedicab drivers allegedly scam hapless tourists by charging them as much as several hundred dollars to travel a couple of blocks.

“Forget the per-street and per-avenue rates,” said Garodnick, chief sponsor of the legislation, which he said would finally put an end to what has become “an opportunity for predatory, deceptive practices.”

Today, pedicab drivers are required to display “rate cards” outlining lists of charges. But many include confusing conditions, such as multiplying per-block fares by the number of passengers on board, or adding additional, exorbitant charges like “base fares,” per-person fees and taxes that don’t exist.

“Drivers may charge as much as $100 or even $1,000 per passenger, as long as the rate is conspicuously posted on the pedicab’s outside panel in 28-point font, which from a distance of a couple of feet is not very legible,” Garodnick said.

Under the proposed legislation, which the Department of Consumer Affairs announced it “enthusiastically” supported at a hearing Thursday afternoon, pedicabs drivers would be allowed to charge only by-the-minute fares. Drivers would be able to set whatever rate they want, but would be barred from adding additional fees — including, potentially, per-person charges.

Drivers would also have to display their charges clearly, in 2-inch letters, in a location visible to passengers, and would be forced to install timers that clock how long a rider has been on-board. They would also have to give passengers information cards at the beginning of rides outlining their rates, along with the driver’s name, license number and company.

Laramie Flick, president of the New York City Pedicab Owners' Association, endorsed the idea of time-based fares, and called for an end to per-person charges, which he said open the door to price-gouging.

“The industry is in crisis now because of price-gouging. Every day, hundreds of new price-gouging victims are telling all their friends never to take a pedicab,” he said.

He said some drivers even step out of their cabs and switch their rate cards in the middle of rides, pretending that they’re adjusting the pedicab’s canopy.

While he would prefer to be able to negotiate fares on a case-by-case basis, he said that per-minute fares were well-suited for tourists, who generally don’t know the city’s geography and how many blocks they are from landmarks.

“We generally believe the move to timers is a general improvement,” he said.

But Ibrahim Donmez, 29, who has driven a pedicab for seven years, blamed the city’s bad rulemaking for the current problems, and said passengers would be better off if drivers were simply allowed to negotiate fares verbally before rides.

“This is not going to work. This bill is essentially useless,” he said, describing the current situation as "out of control."

City Councilman Oliver Koppell said he would like to see the council go further by setting uniform fares, like taxis, and turning enforcement duties over to the Taxi & Limousine Commission, which regulates cabs.

“There’s no price regulation, so they can charge a much higher fee in terms of minutes than might be warranted,” he said. “I’m still concerned about people getting ripped off.”

A spokeswoman for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn declined to weigh in on the bill, pending review of Thursday's testimony.