In 2014, Chicago pedicab owners accused the City Council of “discriminating” against pedicabs and warned aldermen they would be forced out of business by the draconian regulations.
Now downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to put the brakes on pedicabs yet again — this time by banning them from the River North entertainment district during prime hours and by prohibiting pedicabs from using amplified sound during all hours of the day and night.
In an email to the Sun-Times, Reilly noted there is already a pedicab “prohibition zone” on Michigan Avenue and State Street.
At the behest of the commander of the Chicago Police Department’s 18th District, Reilly plans to introduce a new ordinance at Wednesday’s Council meeting that would prohibit pedicabs from operating from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. in the area from Michigan Avenue west to Wells Street, and from Ohio Street south to the Chicago River.
“There are an increasing number of incidents involving pedicabs congesting narrow (and busy) two-way streets illegally staging in traffic lanes and lay-by lanes. This is making it difficult for Fire, EMS and Police to respond to call for service in a timely manner,” Reilly wrote.
“In addition to the unsafe traffic conditions they are creating, they are also negatively impacting quality of life and public safety.”
Arguing that “most” pedicabs are now equipped with “amplified music systems and light shows,” Reilly also wants to prohibit amplified sound during specified hours.
“The Police and local business owners complain pedicab drivers are being paid to provide curbside DJ service to illegal curbside parties on sidewalks in the entertainment district. This is resulting in disorderly behavior and fights in the streets. This places local hospitality security staff at serious risk & creates mayhem in River North. The loud music is also generating constituent complaints in select areas,” Reilly wrote.
“When the Police, local hospitality businesses and my constituents all asked for help with this problem, I was more than happy to oblige.”
Attached to Reilly’s email was a photo of a downtown pedicab set on fire outside what appears to be a downtown high-rise.
“Word has it the sound system shorted,” the alderman wrote.
The 2014 pedicab ordinance capped the number of pedicabs at 200, permanently banned them from Michigan Avenue and State Street and kept them out of the Loop during rush hours.
Pedicabs also were: required to post fares and meet rigid safety standards, including passenger seat belts; provide proof of workers compensation insurance; and face impoundment if they violated city rules.
The roughly 400 people trying to eke out a living by driving pedicabs accused the Council of going too far and making it virtually impossible for them to survive.
“Not allowing me . . . to operate without restrictions would only kill my business. … I would basically be forced to sell my cabs and start another business if I cannot operate on these two iconic streets [Michigan and State]. This is where the tourists are. This is where the Chicagoan locals are. [About] 300,000 people walk up and down this street,” said Antonio Bustamante, owner of Kickback Pedicabs said then.
The first few months of the city crackdown proved the doomsayers right.
The city had issued licenses for just 15 pedicab vehicles, with 65 more pending completion of the application process, including proof of insurance. As for the separate city license for pedicab drivers, only 44 people had applied.
At the time, T.C. O’Rourke, a board member of the Chicago Pedicab Association, said there was only one explanation for the trickle of applications: the decision to ban pedicabs from Michigan and State between Congress Parkway and Oak Street and also to ban them from the Loop during rush hours.
“The impact of the downtown street bans has really been felt. It’s really cut into business,” O’Rourke said. “People are unwilling to take on that expense and that risk. Many people have just quit doing this work. Others have moved away to less overbearing regulatory environments.”
Two years later, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved to close a legal loophole that Chicago pedicab operators were “exploiting” to get around rigid city regulations.
At Emanuel’s behest, aldermen amended the municipal code governing pedicab licenses to state: “A person engages in the occupation of a pedicab chauffeur by seeking or accepting a fee, an economic benefit of a donation or gratuity or any form of compensation [goods or services] for providing transportation to passengers in a pedicab.”
“I’ve seen pedicab operators near the United Center with signs that encourage ‘tips or donations’ – so they may be using that as a way to circumvent licensing requirements,” Reilly said then.
“Clarifying the definition of ‘operator’ will close a loophole that’s being exploited by some operators and will ultimately help the city ensure pedicab operators are complying with existing licensing, insurance and safety regulations that are intended to protect their customers.”