May 27, 2010
By Billy Gallagher
Think twice the next time you consider honking at that cyclist riding in front of you on Spruce Street. He might be your next cab driver. On Thursday, the Philly Bikecab Alliance held a press conference in Dilworth Plaza at City Hall to announce that Bikecabs will be licensed to operate on the streets of Philadelphia beginning this Memorial Day Weekend.
Starting Saturday, two companies, Chariots of Philly and Velo-Park, will have bicycle taxis available for customers in Center City, Northern Liberties, and near the Art Museum. Prices will be $1 per person, per block, with a $5 minimum. The bikecabs can hold 2-4 people and are powered by a taxi- "driver" who pedals in the front seat. The cabs average speed with passengers is between 10 and 15 miles per hour. Between the two companies, 15 cabs will be available this weekend, with more to hit the streets in the future.
The bikecab hours of operation will be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but Tom Dambman of Chariots of Philly has said that according to the Streets Department the night time restrictions should be lifted in 60 days.The bikecabs, also known as pedicabs, are not currently allowed in Old City or the Sports Complex District.The cabs will only be allowed on routes approved by the Streets Department; right now there is a list of approved streets, restricted streets (no bikecabs during rush hour), and prohibited streets. All pedicabs must follow the posted rules of the road, just like any other motor vehicle, and they must have liability insurance, like taxis and limousines. All pedicab drivers must have a valid drivers license and must complete a rigorous safety course.
Operators of the two leading bikecab companies announced that they had formed the Philly Bikecab Alliance (PBA) to help ensure that bikecabs will operate safely. The PBA was formed to support and represent bikecab operators in negotiating with the City while ensuring the integrity and standardization of the bikecab industry in Philadelphia. According to its founders, it will educate consumers and promote bikecabs as a sustainable and eco-friendly transportation alternative. Membership to the PBA is open to potential or current bikecab owners, operators, or drivers in Philadelphia. The PBA plans on purchasing bikecab stands soon that would operate in the same way as taxi stands do.
Ronn Ash, of Velo-Park and the Philly Bikecab Alliance, said, "I can genuinely say that we have worked hard to responsibly introduce bikecabs to the city of Philadelphia. We have played a crucial role in contributing to the regulations and legislation, and are excited to continue our outreach efforts during the next few months as we learn what works and how the service can be improved."
When asked whether it was difficult working together in the Bikecab Alliance with their main business competitors, Velo-Park, Tom Dambman said, "We realized that we would have better results if we joined efforts and created an alliance than if we tried to do it individually.”
The two companies' cabs are remarkably different. Chariots of Philly favors a rickshaw-style open-air cab that Dambman says is handbuilt in Florida and estimates that it is four times cheaper than the Velo-Park model. Velo-Park uses an enclosed cab that weighs over 300 pounds and is 6 feet tall. Velo-Park driver Sean Leahy said he once had three heavyset men in the backseat and including the weight of the cab and himself, the total was over one ton. Both models have space for advertising, which could be very sought after considering how much notice the cabs get in the street. Leahy noted that people often stop and take pictures of the Velo-Park cab.
The Velo-Park cab also has an electrical assist made out of a small car battery. Leahy said that the assist doesn't help much, and that he really only uses it on steep inclines or with a heavy load. Since his shift is 8 hours and the battery lasts 2 hours at the most, he must use it sparingly. Leahy added, “Its kind of like a sense of pride, you know? It's there, but I don’t wanna touch it.”
Both companies already have experience in the region. Velo-Park operated last summer with a special permit. Chariots of Philly operated in Manayunk from 2003-2006 before it had to shut down until new laws were passed. The company moved to Avalon, N.J. for the summers from 2006-2009 and the owners are now excited to be back in Philadelphia now that the new legislation has passed.
City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown was instrumental in passing the legislation that will license and provide rules of regulation for bikecabs in Philadelphia. "This is an opportunity to create new small businesses and jobs in the City," she said. "Tourism is the number two industry in Philadelphia and is vital to our economy. Pedicabs are known to be popular among tourists in other areas of the country. This eco-friendly tourist option is pollution free and will provide a positive alternative for short-distance travel. I am confident that pedicabs will play an integral part in the City of Philadelphia's tourism experience. This initiative will also bring us one step closer to reducing our carbon footprint as we seek to become one of the greenest cities in America."
The councilwoman went on to say that she believes the new bikecabs will have a limited impact on SEPTA's buisness, as bikecabs are limited to tourist and commercial districts. She added, "this creates a new sector of jobs. And anything that's pollution free, we're interested in."
To learn more about the Bikecab industry and the Philly Bikecab Alliance, visit www.phillybikecaballiance.org. Links to both Velo-Park's and Chariots of Philly's websites are availible there as well.