CITYWIDE — Resident Susan Scarafia was at Washington and Ocean avenues last Thursday carrying a heavy picnic basket and a beach chair to attend the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concert Series when she saw two pedicabs. She said she recalled pedicabs may be coming to town.

“So when I saw them, I flagged them down and I said ‘I love pedicabs! I want a ride,” she said. “I just talked [the driver’s] ear off the whole time telling him how much I love pedicabs, I want them to succeed and how I can help.”

Jose Prats, founder of L.A. Bike Taxi, the first pedicab company to operate in Santa Monica under new rules approved by the City Council in April. Prats' pedicabs hit the streets for the first time July 18. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

Jose Prats, founder of L.A. Bike Taxi, the first pedicab company to operate in Santa Monica under new rules approved by the City Council in April. Prats’ pedicabs hit the streets for the first time July 18. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

The first registered pedicab company, L.A. Bike Taxi headed by Jose Prats, launched its service July 18.

Prats, who was Scarafia’s driver, always had a love for bikes that included restoring vintage cycles. He said he was researching what his next career move would be when he decided to peddle into the pedicab business in the city by the sea. He chose Santa Monica because of its beach atmosphere and affinity for biking. And it’s relatively flat, which can be critical when carrying five adults.

“I knew it had to start in Santa Monica and hopefully get to Los Angeles,” Prats said.

The pedicabs, which can hold a maximum of five passengers, will concentrate in the pier and Third Street Promenade areas because there is a lot of foot traffic during the evenings, he said.

The company has four licensed drivers, including Prats, and will add one more next week. Prats said he hopes to bring on more drivers in the future.

Scarafia said her fare was “negotiable,” adding she was charged $2 per block. For $14, it drove her seven blocks to her destination, but she ended up tipping generously.

Prats said the fares will most likely be adjusted in the future.

The City Council approved regulations for the human-powered taxis in April as a way to provide structure to what they described as the “wild west” that might otherwise reign on Santa Monica streets.

As it stands, City Hall does not have the ability to keep pedicabs off the streets because they operate under the same rules as regular bicycles and there’s no basis to deny a business license.

Pedicab companies are now required to obtain a permit that defines where they will operate and how many pedicabs the company will put on the road. They can’t use the Beach Bike Path. Fares must be posted, and each of the pedicabs must have headlights, tail lights, turn signals, brakes, spoke reflectors and each of the passengers must be restrained by seat belts.

Regulations also apply to the drivers, who must be at least 18 years old and free of drug, driving under the influence or sex offense convictions; have taken a bicycle safety training course; and have a decent driving history through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

City Hall is charging fees for operator and driver’s permits: $195 and $95, respectively. They are expected to bring in a little bit more than $2,950 in the 2013-14 fiscal year, said Salvador Valles, business and revenue operations manager with City Hall.

Those fees only cover administrative time rather than any kind of enforcement costs, which is handled by the police department similar to any other traffic issue.

Valles said there are two more separate companies, utilizing a total of 11 pedicabs, that have applied for permits.

“We are exceeding what we originally thought … ,” Valles said.

He said it was too early to tell what the impacts of pedicabs may be on traffic.

“We have been concerned about making sure we address the public safety issues surrounding pedicabs. That’s the big reason why we wanted to regulate pedicabs as much as we could to address those public safety concerns. Other cities have had injuries and even some deaths,” he said.

It’s a wait and see situation, said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the public-private entity that manages and promotes Downtown for City Hall.

“Pedicabs are certainly an unknown entity in Santa Monica and on one hand the pedicabs could potentially alleviate some traffic frustration by having an alternative. On the other hand, they could in fact create an obstacle on the streets and cause traffic to be more congested,” she said.

Pedicabs are wider than bicycles and don’t fit within designated bike lanes.

People who would be inclined to use the pedicabs would be out-of-town visitors or from hotels because they are within walking distance along the beach. Rawson said the organization is “optimistic” the company will be good members of the community and operate in a way that has the least impact on drivers.

Scarafia said pedicabs provide a service that’s a “perfect fit” for Santa Monica because it gets cars off the streets.

“I think as with any form of transportation including walking … we all have to be courteous and cautious,” she said, adding Prats was careful about traffic.

 

ameera@smdp.com

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