The Evolution of San Diego’s Pedicab Culture

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Last week’s post by Claudia Huerta looked at San Diego’s pedicabs, three wheeled alternatives to cabs that ‘cruise the streets in the historic Gaslamp area every day of the week’. Today, Dale Hill of Pops Pedicabs offers further insight into the city’s three-wheeled transport alternative. 

Since 1999, San Diego has had pedicab-specific laws which have become more complex in recent years, primarily as a reaction to how the industry was evolving. Many legal changes focused on safety and consumer protection, while others targeted the number of pedicabs operating in the City. Attempts have also been made, indirectly, to control who would be able to operate a pedicab.

Some of the major changes were in amendments 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.

Image courtesy of faster panda on flickr