San Diego’s Pedicabs Offer a Three-Wheeled Transport Alternative

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Pedicabs in San Diego, California cruise the streets in the historic Gaslamp area every day of the week. They are a variable force in the downtown nightlife experience and at times can more easily maneuver the congested streets filled with local revelers and out-of-towners.

A pedicab is a 3-wheeled non-motorized vehicle, and in San Diego all are required to display an operating decal. In addition pedicab operators are required to carry an operating permit. Most pedicabs can fit up to 3 passengers but some fit up to 4 or 5 passengers and are required to be equipped with working seat belts and battery operated tail-lights to be used after dusk. Additionally, competition has made pedicab owners add stereo systems to play the latest tunes, offer advertising opportunities on the pedicab and “pimp-out” their pedicabs to attract more revenue and customers.

The pedicab business model, or rather, business route, differs from that of the traditional taxicab in San Diego. While pedicab operators are willing to make short trips (a block away) or longer trips that can range from Petco Park to the W Hotel (1.5 miles) or the Hard Rock Hotel to Ruth Chris Steakhouse on Harbor Drive (1.5 miles), cab drivers prefer longer trips from Petco Park to the W Hotel or from Petco Park to Hillcrest (4.6 miles) or from 6th and Broadway to La Mesa or to another neighborhood (10 plus miles) away from the central downtown area. Thus competition between the two types of cabs hardly riles up either side.

For travel within the Gaslamp area customers like me mainly prefer pedicabs over the traditional taxicab not necessarily because of their green qualities but rather for their cool factor, their convenience (it is faster to get from point A to point B in a pedicab than by car or foot), and – if you dare – you can negotiate your fare. However, sometimes you do not even have to negotiate the fare because pedicab operators set their own prices.

The City of San Diego requires that a set fare schedule is displayed on the pedicab that puts a ceiling on the amount that can be charged on the streets, but there is no set fare generating system like there is in a taxicab. For instance, on a recent Saturday night I got some price quotes from a few pedicabs to go from 5th Street and Island to The Hard Rock Hotel, with prices quotes ranging from $15 to $5 for three people. Additionally, after polling a few local friends I found out that there is no legal way to ensure a minimum set payment for a pedicab trip. Thus even if the pedicab operator wants to charge you $10 and you only fork over $5 the pedicab can’t necessarily take legal action against you for not paying the full fare.

While the design parameters for the stylized pedicab are becoming more of a mainstay on the streets of San Diego, the laws and regulations for pedicabs are still relatively vague for both customers and owners in San Diego. Perhaps it is because the market is still working its magic and owners are still making enough profits and have yet to face real adversity to make much commotion and because customers paying higher fares may not remember the exact fare they were charged after leaving the bars.

Image courtesy of San Diego Shooter on flickr

  • http://www.popspedicabs.com PopsPedicabs

    Good basic information about pedicabs in San Diego, we’ve actually had pedicab specific ordinances in San Diego since 1999 and over the years they have become more complex, primarily as a reaction to how the industry was evolving. Many of the changes in the ordinances focused on safety and consumer protection, while others targeted the number of pedicabs operating in the City and attempts were made, indirectly, to control who would be able to operate a pedicab. 

    Some of the major changes were in the amendments that were passed in October 2009; these included the creation of “restricted zones” (the choice places to work) and an overall cap of the number of pedicab permits issued to operate in those areas – this effectively reduced the pedicabs authorized to operate downtown to a maximum of 250 (down from a high of more than 600.) The amendments also mandated that each pedicab would display a permanently affixed fare card that met certain requirements regarding, font size, exact wording and overall sign size (Fare cards have been required by ordinance since 2003, but this was the first time the City gave specifics for what they would say and how it would look). 

    The City didn’t (hasn’t and really shouldn’t) mandate fares. The focus was to make it clear to the passenger before they accepted a ride, what the fare would be, the passenger then could/should make an informed choice. 

    If you board a pedicab, you should always look for the rate card that shows the fare per person (it will always be presented as a range) confirm with the driver what the fare will be for your ride based on destination, number of passengers etc. It’s not surprising to see some pretty ridiculous price ranges on these signs – but drivers do it so they can justify charging the higher price “…but my sign said it can cost $50 per person…” Price negotiation is critical.

    There are a lot of factors that go into what a pedicab driver will ask for or accept for a fare, some valid, some questionable. If you don’t want to pay someone $20 a person for a ride, there’s likely going to be another driver who will take you for $10 each. That’s just the nature of the business.

    Pedicabs have been required to be equipped with seat belts since 2006. The requirement that pedicab passengers actually wear their seat belt was made in direct response to the fatality accident that occurred downtown on July 4, 2009; the change in 2009 moved it to a “click-it or Ticket” offense for the pedicab driver.

    In September 2010, the Governor signed a bill which codified pedicabs into the California Vehicle Code and gave cities the right to require (among other things) pedicab operators to possess a valid California Drivers License in before they could obtain a pedicab permit. 

    In July 2011, the Department of State issued a change to the Code of Federal Regulations that expressly prohibits students entering the United States on a J-1 Visa (Exchange Visitor Program, Summer Work Travel) from serving as pedicab operators. This likely won’t be fully implemented until the fall, but expect that next summer you will not see the influx of foreign students driving pedicabs in downtown San Diego.

    If you’re interested in what the pedicab ordinances really say, you can view them online at the City’s website or you can visit my webpage, go to the document library (using the site map is the quickest way there) and check out the various PDF versions of SD pedicab ordinances through the years. 

    Dale Hill
    Pops’ Pedicabs
    popspedicabs.com

  • http://www.popspedicabs.com PopsPedicabs

    Good basic information about pedicabs in San Diego, we’ve actually had pedicab specific ordinances in San Diego since 1999 and over the years they have become more complex, primarily as a reaction to how the industry was evolving. Many of the changes in the ordinances focused on safety and consumer protection, while others targeted the number of pedicabs operating in the City and attempts were made, indirectly, to control who would be able to operate a pedicab. 

    Some of the major changes were in the amendments that were passed in October 2009; these included the creation of “restricted zones” (the choice places to work) and an overall cap of the number of pedicab permits issued to operate in those areas – this effectively reduced the pedicabs authorized to operate downtown to a maximum of 250 (down from a high of more than 600.) The amendments also mandated that each pedicab would display a permanently affixed fare card that met certain requirements regarding, font size, exact wording and overall sign size (Fare cards have been required by ordinance since 2003, but this was the first time the City gave specifics for what they would say and how it would look). 

    The City didn’t (hasn’t and really shouldn’t) mandate fares. The focus was to make it clear to the passenger before they accepted a ride, what the fare would be, the passenger then could/should make an informed choice. 

    If you board a pedicab, you should always look for the rate card that shows the fare per person (it will always be presented as a range) confirm with the driver what the fare will be for your ride based on destination, number of passengers etc. It’s not surprising to see some pretty ridiculous price ranges on these signs – but drivers do it so they can justify charging the higher price “…but my sign said it can cost $50 per person…” Price negotiation is critical.

    There are a lot of factors that go into what a pedicab driver will ask for or accept for a fare, some valid, some questionable. If you don’t want to pay someone $20 a person for a ride, there’s likely going to be another driver who will take you for $10 each. That’s just the nature of the business.

    Pedicabs have been required to be equipped with seat belts since 2006. The requirement that pedicab passengers actually wear their seat belt was made in direct response to the fatality accident that occurred downtown on July 4, 2009; the change in 2009 moved it to a “click-it or Ticket” offense for the pedicab driver.

    In September 2010, the Governor signed a bill which codified pedicabs into the California Vehicle Code and gave cities the right to require (among other things) pedicab operators to possess a valid California Drivers License in before they could obtain a pedicab permit. 

    In July 2011, the Department of State issued a change to the Code of Federal Regulations that expressly prohibits students entering the United States on a J-1 Visa (Exchange Visitor Program, Summer Work Travel) from serving as pedicab operators. This likely won’t be fully implemented until the fall, but expect that next summer you will not see the influx of foreign students driving pedicabs in downtown San Diego.

    If you’re interested in what the pedicab ordinances really say, you can view them online at the City’s website or you can visit my webpage, go to the document library (using the site map is the quickest way there) and check out the various PDF versions of SD pedicab ordinances through the years. 

    Dale Hill
    Pops’ Pedicabs
    popspedicabs.com