Pedicabs back in downtown after pandemic lull with a potentially dangerous twist: They’re electric and move faster
Pedicabs are once again flooding the Gaslamp Quarter and downtown waterfront after a long pandemic lull, but now they’re faster, more convenient and possibly more dangerous as electric rickshaws have replaced the version human-powered.
The switch to electric pedicabs, which San Diego was forced to allow this spring due to a new state law, gave a huge boost to a tourism-dependent industry that had been almost entirely inactive since almost two years.
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Pedicab riders can now travel faster or complete a full city center tour in less than half an hour. Drivers earn more money and more tips because they can complete more trips per shift.
“It has definitely changed our industry for the better,” said Ali Horuz, owner of VIP Pedicab.
But pedestrian safety advocates say the switch to electric pedicabs has made the Embarcadero and the waterfront much more dangerous, compounding problems that began with the arrival of electric scooters four years ago.
The mix of electric rickshaws, which move faster than regular scooters and bicycles, forces pedestrians to navigate a sea of different vehicles that all move at varying speeds.
“A pedicab is a three-wheeled bicycle that goes 30mph and puts people at risk,” said Jonathan Freeman, leader of local pedestrian group Safe Walkways. “I see this as a potential tragedy waiting to happen.”
San Diego police say they are in “wait-and-see” mode as the number of pedicabs, which began to increase earlier this year, increases even more sharply with the arrival of the summer tourist season.
Lt. Adam Sharki said police were ready to act if things got dangerous.
“The police department has dedicated Gaslamp crews who will deal with unsafe pedicabs and take action against unsafe operators,” he said. “People are encouraged to report dangerous driving to the police.”
Downtown community leaders, who played a key role in the city’s 2018 crackdown on electric rickshaws that was mostly seen as a success, say the switch to electric rickshaws has advantages and disadvantages.
Motorists on the streets of Gaslamp Quarter are thrilled to no longer have to drive slowly behind human-powered pedicabs, but many pedestrians are genuinely scared, said Gary Smith, president of the Downtown San Diego Residents Group.
“There are so many things moving at so many different speeds,” Smith said. “It will take a few accidents and injuries for people to prioritize fixing this issue.”
Safe Walkways says the city should use its recent scooter crackdown as a model for regulating electric pedicabs.
Freeman said people should be able to quickly report reckless rickshaw behavior on the city’s Get it Done tipster app, and each rickshaw should display a device identification number in large print. and a telephone number to call in the event of a complaint.
“Owners should be held accountable for driver misconduct,” Freeman said, noting that virtually all local rickshaw drivers work for one of four major companies: VIP, Yellow Bike Pedicab, pedicabLIMO and Urban Pedicabs. .
Freeman noted that downtown residents also encounter wheeled drone delivery devices, adding yet another element of danger. He said city officials are always late.
“The city is completely unprepared for this,” he said. “They don’t think enough about pedestrian safety, especially for older people.”
Smith, the downtown community leader, said he supports Safe Walkways’ request for Get It Done to allow pedicab complaints. But he added another key was reminding rickshaw operators and riders of the rules approved in 2018.
These rules prohibit flashing and multi-colored lights on pedicabs, but the use of static one-color lights is still permitted.
The rules also limit the volume of amplified music to the decibel level allowed in the neighborhood where a pedicab is operating, and they prohibit music being heard more than 50 feet away.
Additionally, the rules require fares to be clearly visible and fully negotiated before a ride begins.
The city considered establishing a uniform fare structure, but instead added a requirement that pedicab operators negotiate the full fare with passengers before a ride begins.
Unscrupulous pedicab operators sometimes tell a group it will cost $15 for a ride, then say after the trip they meant $15 per person, which can raise the cost to $60 or $75 $.
Horuz, the owner of VIP Pedicabs, said the industry embraced these rules from the start. He said the only concern is that the city has increased the cost to become a pedicab driver to nearly $600.
“It’s hard to get new drivers because they can’t afford it,” he said. “We have a bunch of taxis that we can’t get out because we don’t have enough drivers.”
The city’s annual pedicab operator fee rose from $212 to $409 in July 2018, but Horuz said that doesn’t include the cost of a business license and start-up costs like audits. antecedents.
“It’s kind of a last resort job,” he said. “So that’s a lot of money for some of them.”
But Horuz said the industry is in great shape overall, mostly thanks to the state forcing the city to lift its ban on electric pedicabs.
“It’s pretty good right now,” he said. “Drivers can do it more easily and customers are happy because they get seats faster.”
Some customers choose pedicabs because they are quaint and scenic instead of convenient. Horuz said these customers benefit from being able to cover more ground in the same amount of time.
The city banned electric pedicabs several years ago due to concerns about reckless behavior. But a new state law requires cities to treat three-wheeled pedicabs the same as e-bikes, which San Diego allows.
Another effort by the city to keep things in order was the establishment in 2009 of a cap of 250 pedicab permits. There were about 600 pedicabs operating in San Diego before the cap was established.
Horuz said it was important to note that things have been going well since the return of electric rickshaws.
“It’s been deployed for several months and we haven’t had any issues or complaints,” he said. “The drivers are quite careful.