Pedicabs may come to city

Pedicabs, taxi carts driven by pedal power, could hit New Haven streets as soon as the spring.

Entrepreneurs from neighboring Milford and Hamden said they plan to introduce cycle rickshaw services to carry students, parents and tourists through the Elm City. But before the carts can appear on local streets, Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale said a new ordinance must be added to allow for the registration of pedicabs and to set guidelines for their operation.

“We think it is in the best interest to protect pedal cabs with baseline standards so people would know what to expect from the service,” Sturgis-Pascale said.

The current draft of the ordinance, set to appear before the Board of Aldermen for a vote in October, is a compendium of pedicab laws from other cities, including guidelines for registration, licensing and driver background checks and a 10-pedicab limit for the city. New Haven currently lacks any ordinances explicitly restricting or permitting the operation of pedicabs on city streets.

Mark Kaminski, who co-founded Milford Pedicab in March and currently operates four cabs around that city, said he is concerned that the cab limit would stifle his business. Sturgis-Pascale said in response that the limit was proposed by the city traffic department and is still up for discussion with the prospective business owners.

Despite these reservations, Kaminski said the new ordinance will likely benefit his business and that he and co-founder Joe Meade are already planning to expand to New Haven.

Their model is to sell advertisement space on the cabs to local businesses and for drivers to rely entirely on customers’ tips, which can range from $1 to over $20 for a short ride. As a result, drivers hoping to succeed in the business must focus on customer interaction, Kaminski said.

“Some people are scared off by the fact that there is not a guaranteed revenue stream,” he said. “The real challenge is not just finding a driver that can not only physically do it, but finding one has that entertainment value.”

Paul Hammer SOM ’85, the president of the Bicycle Education, Entrepreneurship, and Enrichment Programs, or BEEEP!, began to formulate a pedicab business plan of his own earlier this year, now called CaBike!, with partners Jongwook Kim ’09 and John Binford MED ’12. Hammer and Kim agreed that a city ordinance would help maintain cordial relations with the city and prevent liability issues.

Hammer said he plans to launch CaBike! if the ordinance is passed.

Of the dozen Yale students interviewed over the weekend, most expressed interest in pedicabs but added that, in some cases, taxis are simply a more practical option.

“Obviously, if you’re going home, you need to take a taxi to carry your luggage,” Rachel Kurchin ’13 said. “But if you’re going somewhere like New York, [pedicabs] are a lot more eco-friendly and cheaper than taking a taxi.”

Since the proposed pedicab routes will include areas such as Union Station, the business would be in direct competition with taxis, especially during weekends and school breaks. Some taxi cab drivers, such as Jesus Sanchez, a 37-year-old driver with Quick Taxi, said the company would consider renting pedicabs as a supplement to their current business.

But other drivers said New Haven is not a favorable location for the new business, especially in light of the failure to bring pedicabs to the city a few years ago, when a local man attempted to start up a pedicab company but abandoned his plans because he thought he would not turn a profit.

Yellow Taxi manager Timothy Lee expressed skepticism at the prospect of pedicabs putting a dent into the local taxi industry.

“This is New England, and in another a month or so, people won’t want to hop on a bicycle,” he said. “It could be dangerous to drive customers through the elements and city traffic.”

But Sturgis-Pascale, a senior administrative assistant in Yale’s Office of Parking and Transportation, said pedicabs will be both a sustainable and novel answer to many local traffic problems.

“Personally, I’d prefer to ride in a pedicab than feel that I’m hostage to someone’s bad driving in a taxi,” she said.

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