Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza festgoers won’t be able to ride in pedicabs down Michigan Avenue this summer to escape the thousands of people pouring out of Grant Park.
That’s because Michigan Avenue and State Street are off-limits to pedicabs from Oak Street to Congress Parkway due to the new city ordinance that went into effect this month.
“It remains to be seen how we’re going to be able to serve the public at these festivals where typically we are most helpful and utilized,” said T.C. O’Rourke, a Chicago Pedicab Association board member.
Additionally, pedicabs no longer are allowed in the Loop from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
“We want to keep them rolling. We want passengers in the back. Losing downtown is a big hit for us,” said Robert Tipton, owner of Chicago Rickshaw, operating in the city since 2008.
The ordinance also requires insurance and safety equipment as well as licensing for pedicabs and its drivers. The operational restrictions, chauffeur license requirement and the threat of a fine or impoundment have put a damper on business, pedicab owners and drivers said.
As a result, pedicab owners and operators said they noticed fewer drivers are renting and driving pedicabs on the streets and fewer passengers are seeking rides.
Now that he’s no longer allowed on Michigan Avenue or State Street, O’Rourke seeks riders at Navy Pier, Willis Tower and Soldier Field. But he said he’s not making as much money as when he was working on Michigan Avenue, and even lost fares because he had to raise prices because the trips took more time.
Safety also is a concern; instead of taking Michigan Avenue, pedicabs are riding down Columbus Drive, where cars drive faster and merge onto the road from parking garage ramps. Another issue: Columbus Drive often is closed during festivals or foot races on the weekend.
As a driver, Nicole Mangiaracina said she appreciates the street restrictions because she found it nerve-wracking to pass the wide-load pedicabs on the road. But she has used pedicabs to get to her destination quickly, explaining that she took a $30 pedicab ride from the Soldier Field parking lot to the stadium for a Bears-Cowboys game when it was freezing cold in December.
“It was really fun. He had a speaker system in it so he was playing fun, loud music,” said Mangiaracina, 26, of Ukrainian Village.
Last summer, she hopped in a pedicab and headed to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game. “We were running late. Instead of walking, we just took that,” she said. “Traffic was too bad to take a cab.”
Pedicab operators said they supported regulation, but the problem lay with which streets they are prohibited from riding on despite paying a ground transportation tax to the city.
“We want regulation, but we don’t want over-regulation,” Tipton said.
The street restriction has put pedicab owners and drivers at odds with politicians who supported the ordinance and believed it would improve traffic flow.
“While this ordinance contains provisions limiting pedicabs in certain areas, it does give full access to the rest of the city,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who sponsored the ordinance, said in a residential newsletter. “I believe that this ordinance strikes a balance that will allow the pedicab industry to flourish while preserving safety in our city.”
Getting pedicab drivers licensed has gotten off to a slow start.
O’Rourke was the first of five pedicab drivers to get a chauffeur license, a process that included a background check, a physical exam and written test. Requiring pedicab drivers to have a valid driver’s license for at least one year in order to get a pedicab chauffeur license was problematic, he said.
“Many pedicab operators don’t own automobiles. They walk and bicycle and take public transit—all things the city is encouraging and yet they are being rewarded for that by being exempted from pursuing their livelihood,” said O’Rourke, 41, of Logan Square.
In an email to O’Rourke, the city said it will hold off enforcing requirements to allow applicants more time to apply for licenses.
“As with any new license type, we want to work closely with new industries coming into compliance,” said Mika Stambaugh, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “The BACP is focusing its enforcement efforts primarily on public safety and traffic related violations.”
Still, restrictions and certain requirements, such as getting a physical and setting a cap on licenses, are overkill, said Roger Brownworth, owner of Roger Rickshaw, which has downsized its fleet over the past couple of years.
But he saw an advantage, too. “Since Chicago is the last major city to pass an ordinance, we’ve collected all the bad pedicabbers and the bad pedicab bikes have come here because it’s been the wild, wild West,” Brownworth said. That contributed to giving the pedicab industry a bad reputation, he said.
“It’s good because regulation will make it a safer industry and will legitimize the industry.”
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.