New Pedicab Policy in San Francisco Invites New Routes and Businesses
After several months of negotiations, a San Francisco staff committee comprised of transportation engineers, planners, police and the fire department has adopted a new policy on approving pedicab routes, a complete about-face from existing policy that encourages pedicabs on many more streets than before, provided they don't interfere with transit lines.
The previous pedicab rules, initiated in 1986 and revised in 2000, were a litany of prohibitions against the pedal-powered cabs, isolating their use to a tiny portion of the Embarcadero. In contrast, the new rules adopted by the Transportation Advisory Staff Committee (TASC) on January 28th begin with a preamble that couldn't have been better written by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition:
It is in the interest of the City and TASC to facilitate new pedicab routes throughout the City and County of San Francisco. Pedicabs provide a convenient, emission and carbon-free alternative to private automobile use and advance the intent of the Transit First Policy and the General Plan of the City and County of San Francisco to provide priority to transportation modes other than the private automobile.
Under the new rules, rather than prohibit pedicabs, the city encourages their use on streets with wide curbside lanes and along any street striped with bicycle lanes in the Bicycle Plan network, which will grow significantly when the bicycle injunction is lifted later this year. Additionally, pedicab routes are to be approved on streets with low traffic volumes, streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less, and streets with a gradient of 8 percent or less.
The news couldn't be better for the new Golden Gate Pedicab company and its director, Justin Bruce, who moved to San Francisco from Boston in late 2008. Bruce, originally a driver for Boston Pedicab Company, never expected the lengthy process that has been required to do business in San Francisco.
"We’d invested a lot of money and time, but nothing was moving," said Bruce, who initially applied for permits from Boston, just as he and his partner in Boston Pedicab Company had done with new companies they started in Newport, Rhode Island, and Washington DC. When it was clear that San Francisco wasn't going to be as easy as previous cities, Bruce decided to pick up and move out here to manage the start-up in person.
Bruce attributed some of the difficulty to the fact that there was only one pedicab company at work, San Francisco Pedicabs, and that the city had not looked closely at its policy in many years. "It was such an infrequent thing to have a pedicab company come in," said Bruce.
In addition to working with the agencies that manage city streets, Bruce has been negotiating with the Recreation and Parks Department for permission to operate in Golden Gate Park, permits he expects to have in hand within the next two weeks.
Golden Gate Pedicabs has 15 new bicycle taxis in a storefront office on 4th Street near Harrison, many of them still partially wrapped from shipment from Colorado's Main Street Pedicab fabrication plant. Bruce said the cabs start at $3500 and can cost more. Though Bruce doesn't have a full staff of drivers yet, he hopes to take a number of cabs out this weekend, assuming he gets his medallions and approval at two final meetings on Friday with the SFPD and the San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector.
Keith Saggers, who has been operating San Francisco Pedicabs since 1989, hailed the new pedicab policy as an important milestone. "I’m very encouraged by the changes because TASC is paying attention to pedicabs and bicycle transportation and they want to facilitate it."
"This is the best I could have hoped for or expected," added Saggers.
Saggers and Bruce said the city seemed very willing to work with them to approve new routes. Yesterday, Saggers received permission from the SFPD to operate on a new route from the Embarcadero to Mint Plaza along Howard and Folsom. The Friends of Mint Plaza, said Saggers, worked on their behalf to encourage the new route and he expected the plaza would become a new queue area for drivers to pick up and drop off fares near downtown amenities.
Bruce said the MTA and SFPD had approved a route that extended up Market Street where there are existing bicycle lanes to The Wiggle and onward to the Panhandle. Assuming Rec and Park grant the permits for Golden Gate Park, there will be a continuous pedicab route bay to breakers.
Both Saggers and Bruce hope San Franciscans as well as tourists come to see pedicabs as an alternative to motorized taxis and that the fleets become a symbol of the city's commitment to sustainable transportation.
"We’re taking cars off the road," said Bruce. "It helps people not to drive their car and gives them another option."
Golden Gate Pedicabs is seeking drivers. To apply or get more information, send an email to justin (at) goldengatepedicab.com.