Businesses urge legislation to rid London of rogue pedicabs
LONDON business leaders say they are fed up with rickshaw drivers ripping off tourists and riding on footpaths to ferry punters around tourism hotspots.
They are calling for urgent legislation to crack down on the West End’s “pedicabs” as a bill to regulate the cycle-powered rickshaws is delayed yet again.
Westminster City Council (WCC) has been pushing for regulation for more than a decade, saying it has fielded complaints ranging from noisy sound-systems to speeding riders who park on footpaths and rip off punters.
However, one rickshaw driver, who backs regulation of his trade, says he frequently loses money from customers who run off without paying.
Hippodrome Casino chief executive Simon Thomas is among central London business leaders backing MP Paul Scully’s bill for Transport for London (TfL) to get powers to regulate rickshaws, which he says are clogging up space in the already busy West End.
“This has been a problem for years and it’s got worse, particularly with the advent of the electric pedicabs which can obviously go faster with less effort from the rider,” he said.
Presently, the pedicabs are considered “stage carriages” under 19th-century London Hackney carriage laws, which include powers to punish “wanton or furious” driving, drunkenness and “insulting gestures”.
Mr Thomas said the rickshaws outside his Leicester Square casino were public-hire vehicles that should face modern regulations like black cabs.
TfL says between 2015 and 2017 it recorded 16 injuries involving London’s pedicabs, including one pedestrian being hurt, 13 cyclists and two rickshaw riders.
Mr Thomas said a friend had also recently been knocked off his motorbike by a turning pedicab and had his leg in a cast for six months.
He fears it is only a matter of time before someone is killed.
One woman recently complained to Hippodrome that she had been quoted £15 for a trip from Oxford Street to the casino and was taken down a back street where the driver demanded £50, Mr Thomas said.
He added: “She felt very vulnerable and paid him. As there was no licence plate, there was no way she could report him.”
Mr Thomas said pedicabs should be licensed, insured and licenceplated, their drivers backgroundchecked, and vehicles subject to safety standards, with fares fixed and displayed.
One London pedicab driver, who only wanted to give his name as Peter, said he thought they had an unfair reputation, and that the city’s estimated 1,400 rickshaw count was over-inflated by politicians.
He estimated they number around 250 on a busy night.
Peter said it was not only tourists using the rickshaws. He spends about half of his time cycling “Brits and Londoners” around the West End who enjoy seeing London’s sights on an open-air ride.
“They see more, it’s analogous to a fairground ride – it’s a fun thing to do,” he said. “There is a certain amount of disquiet about using the Tube because of terrorists and so on. Basically it’s just good fun.”
He estimated a solo customer wanting to ride between Leicester Square and Covent Garden would be charged a £10 minimum fare.
Peter said he was aware of over charging and illegal migrants touting for jobs but added that “licensing would put a stop to that”.
He supports regulating rickshaws, but thinks imposing fixed fares would prove difficult.
“As a rider myself I am very keen to see that we get licensed and legitimised,” he said.
“We have an appalling reputation and that’s justified and understandable – but most of the people who do this are decent guys, they are not interested in ripping you off.”
Peter said the rides, often late at night, could be “very tough” and it was not just rickshaw riders who were dishonest.
“There is another side to that story – we do get run-outs. People jump off and don’t pay,” he said.
“That happens more often than the overcharging. You do get a lot of fairly young kids who are mostly responsible for that, but not entirely. There’s also middle-class, upperclass people who do that too.”
Sutton Conservative MP Peter Scully’s bill would give powers to TfL, including the ability to impose rickshaw road-worthiness standards and speed limits.
It could also licence riders and restrict operating times and locations.
The bill has cross-party support but has faced repeated delays since it was due for its second reading in May.
Objections knocked it back to October 26. That session timed out and it was put off again until late November.
In his speech in the Commons unveiling the bill this January, Mr Scully said he did not want to ban pedicabs, saying they were a pleasant way for tourists to see London.
But groups of them frequently blocked streets and parked on pavements, while riders shouted and played loud music, which posed safety risks, and annoyed businesses and residents, he claimed.
Mr Scully called for London to imitate San Diego, which strengthened its rules following the death of a tourist by forcing pedicab drivers to be insured, display fares openly and ensure passengers wear seatbelts.
WCC has backed a September report from the Task and Finish Group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing which urges Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to urgently introduce legislation.
Cabinet member for environment and city management Tim Mitchell said rogue pedicabs were a “blight” on Westminster’s streets and called for Government action.
He added: “Our residents cannot wait any longer.
“Without a change in the law good pedicabs will continue to be undermined by drivers who charge rip-off prices for noisy rides along the pavement, which is a total waste of this fun and green form of transportation.”
Peter (pictured) admits that London’s rickshaw riders have an appalling reputation
It is accepted that many tourists love a rickshaw ride around London