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Pedicabs under attack by marauding golf carts?

Posted Mar 20 2009 4:12pm

At the Urban Transportation Commission meeting last Tuesday, a tall guy in a suit spoke and requested his company be put on the agenda for April. His name is Chris Nielsen, and he is requesting a formal category for his vehicles, electric powered golf carts.  His business, Capitol Cruisers, operates a “charter service” giving people rides around downtown and they have been for several months now.

What Nielsen wants from the city is for his golf carts to be specifically allowed as a category of vehicle downtown, just like pedicabs are now.  In fact, his whole business model seems to compete with pedicabs. For the moment, his golf carts are operating in a legal gray area of sorts. Some comments at the Austin Pedicab Alliance website indicate he is breaking the law, and there have been accusations of his employees doing things like trying to steal customers right out of a working pedicab.

Right now, his company has no business presence on the web except this really bad MySpace page. Note their interests are “your money, their favorite books are “bank statements” and their “hero” is Benjamin Franklin. Glad they’re focusing on what’s really important. It’s hard to understand if this is a serious business or not – the feeling you get when all the pedicab comments and this page are taken into account is that this just looks like amateur hour.

I asked Ken Cameron of the Austin Pedicab Alliance about the situation and he said:

The long and short of it is that his vehicles do not fall in to any current category for a ground transportation vehicle.  These categories include limousines, automobiles, vans, buses, pedicabs, house carriages, etc.  The city requires that each company operating this type of vehicle get an operating authority.  Qualifications for the operating authorities differ depending on the type of vehicle being operated.

Pedicabbers working SXSW 2009

Pedicabbers working SXSW 2009

For pedicabs we are required to carry a 2 million dollar insurance policy, register a DBA or LLC, have a federal tax number, and have our vehicle inspected by the city.   After this each driver is required to get a chauffeurs permit, criminal background check, maintain a Texas drivers license.  Our vehicles undergo a yearly inspection.  The inspection process covers brakes, lighting, general appearance of the vehicles and several other points.  The inspection process is subject to change and updating by the city to insure that our passengers are transported safely.  We must register our vehicles with the city quarterly and pay them $50 for this registration.

Pedicab Drivers are required to carry their chauffeurs permit while driving their pedicab.  Their cab must display the company name, company phone number, inspection sticker, registration sticker, Number of the pedicab, 4 rear facing safety lights, and a front headlight, and a slow moving vehicle triangle.

Thus far Chris Nielson has only placed a slow moving vehicle triangle on his golf carts.

Chris is legally allowed to give free rides to any one he wants.  As soon as he or his employees accept any money at all from any passenger they are operating an gypsy taxi service.  To get legal his company would need to comply with all aspects Austin City code section 13-2.

Whether or not Chris Nielsen’s Capitol Cruisers becomes legally sanctioned by the city, it’s important to look at what we would be getting. Right now we have lots of pedicab drivers who are either independent or rent their setups from one of several  companies in town. They add character to downtown, and the barriers to entry in the business are fairly low. They are, of course, a cleaner form of transportation than electric golf carts (which are pretty clean overall).

Say, can we stop off at Little City before our tee time?

Say, can we stop off at Little City before our tee time?

Pedicabs bring more character to downtown. They have youthful energy, are a bit quirky and weird (oh no that word again). Golf carts? Not really unless your idea of “character” is the look of most retirement villages these days. That’s not the image I would want for my downtown.

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