Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bloomberg Throws a Bone

The NY Post article I saw at PedicabBlog seemed more optimistic and promising than the reality, mostly because it was written by a lobbyist for the New York City Pedicab Owners Association. Looking deeper, it turns out that Bloomberg's opposition to the pedicab regulation bill is on much narrower grounds than most riders would have hoped for, and a severely restrictive regulation on pedicabs will more than likely still go through. Nevertheless, this controversy has raged for some time, and it looked like the industry had no support against the powerful taxi and hotel industries. Bloomberg's decision to veto after initially supporting the bill was apparently in response to the testimony of industry advocates. The pedicab lobby seems to be powerful enough to get a sympathy move, the ultimate import of which is probably something we need not celebrate in excess. Please excuse the pessimism. Yesterday's New York Times Article on the veto is reprinted below:

Bloomberg Vetoes Bill Limiting Pedicabs
Published: March 31, 2007

Saying the free market should dictate how many pedicabs roam the streets, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg vetoed a bill yesterday that would cap the number of pedicabs operating in the city at 325 and impose other regulations on the growing industry.

The move is certain to provoke a showdown with the City Council, which passed the bill last month. Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who has had a largely cordial relationship with the Bloomberg administration, promised to push the Council to override the mayor’s action.

The veto was foreshadowed two weeks ago at a bill-signing ceremony when Mr. Bloomberg, who brought the original legislation to the Council and whose staff spent months negotiating its fine details, was swayed by last-second pleas from pedicab advocates and delayed signing the measure. He said then that he wanted more time to think about it. Yesterday was the deadline for him to take action.

In his weekly appearance yesterday on WABC radio, the mayor said that he agreed with much of the bill, including its enhanced safety and insurance requirements, but that he objected on “free marketplace” grounds to the cap, which pedicab advocates say would put some 175 drivers out of work.

“If the public wants more pedicabs, why shouldn’t the public be allowed to have more pedicabs?” Mr. Bloomberg asked. “And if the public doesn’t want them, then nobody’s going to drive them because they can’t make a living. So let the free marketplace decide.”

The mayor said he hoped the Council would return the bill to him without the cap, or with a higher cap of around 500, the estimated number of pedicab drivers currently on the street.

His action drew praise from pedicab supporters, who hope to use the reprieve to persuade the Council to strip the bill further. In particular, they hope to eliminate a provision that prohibits pedicabs from using electric-assist motors, small battery-powered engines that help them pedal. They also want measures in the bill removed that would allow the police to ban pedicabs from Midtown during certain periods.

The City Council passed its bill on Feb. 28 by a vote of 38 to 7 with 4 abstentions. Two-thirds of the 51 Council members, or 34 votes, are needed to override a veto.

Pedicab advocates along with Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer, and a handful of council members who voted against the bill began a campaign yesterday to try to sway additional council members and stop the override. The Council has 30 days to strike down the veto.

“The reality is that many of my colleagues now have the opportunity to rectify a bill that was flawed,” said Councilman Hiram Monserrate of Queens, who voted against it. “I don’t always agree with the mayor, but I applaud him because he had a strong moral conscience when he decided not to sign this bill.”

But Ms. Quinn was unmoved yesterday.

“Anyone who has been to Columbus Circle or Times Square in recent years has seen the hundreds of pedicabs that circle around the streets,” she said. “While most drivers are responsible, we need to establish clear rider guidelines and passenger rights, and make sure pedicabs don’t clog our streets or endanger pedestrians.”

The proliferation of the three-wheel conveyances around Times Square and the theater district has been an irritant to theater and hotel owners, who say the pedicabs cause congestion, and to taxi drivers, who say their licenses with the city give them exclusive rights to people who hail cabs. The taxi and hansom cab industries are both capped.

Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, said the number of pedicabs on the street was already unsustainable.

“Just because the industry has been allowed to grow unregulated for several years doesn’t mean the city should accept the current number of pedicabs that has only reached that level because of a lack of regulation,” Mr. Woloz said. “The city needs to come in and regulate this industry, and that includes a strict cap.”

Councilman Leroy Comrie of Queens, chairman of the consumer affairs committee, which held hearings on the bill, said he was disappointed at the mayor’s change of heart.

“Every facet of the pedicab issue was laid on the negotiating table and fully discussed,” he said.

Riders in the Valley are in full support (most of us) of insurance and other reasonable regulations, but the ban on the electric assist is absurd. Here in Phoenix, those who use so-called "e-bikes" are knocked merely for being pansies, as they are not really necessary here (except maybe for that hill on 5th St. in Tempe, and the Cherry Ave. Hill in Tucson). In Manhattan, the small boost from an "e-bike" must be a godsend for those long distances, while the driver competes with the extremely aggressive New York traffic. The Post article:

The bill included a first-in-America ban on pedicab use of "electric assist" power. This "assist" power is less than half that needed to operate a hairdryer, and can't be used unless the pedicab is being pedaled. It's important because 1) it lets pedicabs use heavier safety equipment and 2) it provides a little extra help for drivers who are older, less strong, disabled or just tired after a long day.

Ironically, to satisfy the demands of the taxi industry (which incomprehensibly views pedicabs as competition), the council justified its ban of safety-enhancing electric-assist power by claiming it was unsafe. The only support for this absurd claim came from the taxi industry itself - via a false assertion that electric-assist pedicabs use three-cyclinder motors that essentially turn them into motorcycles.

The motors on an electric assist sound like a small remote control car, a far cry from a motorcycle. More later...


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