NYC mayor hits brakes on pedicab rates decision

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit the brakes Wednesday on a proposal to keep tourist-toting pedicabs from charging confusing, sometimes exorbitant rates.

The plan — the latest in a series of attempts to regulate the tricycle taxis in recent years — was up for Bloomberg to consider signing Wednesday. But after a pedicab driver complained that the city was unfair to the pedal-powered cabs, Bloomberg said he wanted “to find out a little more” about the proposal.

“I’ve always thought, in this city, people want pedicabs, and there’s been discrimination against pedicab drivers from day one,” said the mayor, who has previously praised pedicabs as environmentally friendly transportation and tourist attraction rolled into one.

“That’s not to say there shouldn’t be adequate protections against people gouging,” Bloomberg added. He said he’d announce by Friday whether he’ll sign the measure.

About 700 pedicabs now ply city streets, according to the New York City Pedicab Owners’ Association. The vehicles, resembling giant tricycles with three-passenger carriages in the back, mainly jaunt around Central Park and other midtown Manhattan landmarks.

Now, most pedicab drivers charge by city block and per passenger. Some add surcharges and fees, and riders can find themselves facing unexpectedly steep bills at the end. In one notorious example, a Texas family this summer paid $442 for a 14-block ride.

The City Council voted unanimously last month to require pedicab drivers to charge by the minute, with the timer clearly visible.

The plan “simplifies what has otherwise become an opportunity for predatory, deceptive practices,” City Councilman Daniel Garodnick said Wednesday. The pedicab owners’ association, which says it’s tried to draw attention to price-gouging drivers, is guardedly optimistic about the fare plan, president Laramie Flick said. The group says it represents about 100 owners.

But owner and driver Ibrahim Donmez says the measure won’t standardize fares because drivers pedal at different speeds. His suggestion is to have drivers give passengers a total, in writing, before the ride.

Donmez told the mayor the rate proposal reflected discrimination and “ignorance against the pedicabs,” saying the predominantly immigrant drivers are subjected to tougher enforcement and afforded fewer accommodations — such as dedicated standing zones — than taxi drivers are.

“We are both in the transportation industry, so the city is basically putting us in a different light,” Donmez said after speaking to Bloomberg.

The city Consumer Affairs Department, which regulates pedicabs, had no immediate response.

Pedicabs have been under city lawmakers’ scrutiny since 2007, when the City Council imposed licensing and safety standards and capped the number of pedicabs allowed on the streets at 325, over Bloomberg’s veto. Pedicab owners sued, and a judge struck down the regulations. The city and pedicab owners later agreed to licensing and safety rules, which Bloomberg signed in 2009.

Last year, Bloomberg signed another measure that required drivers to obey parking rules that apply to motorists. That law also capped the citywide fleet at 850, the number then licensed.

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