DOWNTOWN — City Hall underestimated how popular the pedicabs would be.
Revenues from permits and business licenses are nearly five times what city officials projected before the pedicab ordinance was passed last April. The city by the sea is now home to seven pedicab companies, 40 registered vehicles, and 56 drivers, according to a recent report from City Hall.
The ordinance passed by City Council required all pedicab companies to register with City Hall and prohibited them from riding on densely traveled areas like the Third Street Promenade and the beach bike path.
On a cloudy Friday afternoon Jason Arbogast and Ray Martinez, owners of Pedicab-It, are out on the corner of Ocean and Colorado avenues with their blinking multi-colored lights and their leather chariots, waiting for fares. They have four registered vehicles and five drivers, including themselves.
Their spot on Friday, a corner by the Santa Monica Pier, is a gray area Arbogast said. Sometimes city officials hassle them for blocking the right-of-way and sometime they don’t mind.
“The ordinance passed last summer and then in October the weather got a lot cooler,” he said. “As operators, I think we’re all still getting our feet on the ground. Everyone is figuring out how it’s going to work.”
Martinez and Arbogast were working in the hotels before the ordinance passed. Soon after, they decided to get into the pedicab game.
They charge a dollar for every block driven and offer deals for longer rides.
The unseasonably warm weather brought new drivers (and riders) out of the woodwork in the past two weeks, he said. These new drivers don’t know all of the rules, he said, and he’s seen them looking for fares on the promenade, which is a violation.
Officials from Downtown Santa Monica Inc. reported similar problems to City Hall. Technically, you’re allowed to walk a bike on the promenade but soliciting fares is not allowed. Downtown police officers worked with the company that was breaking the rules and the “drivers have generally been cooperative,” city officials said.
Pedicabs were seen on the beach bike path by city officials but the police have not reported any issues.
Both Arbogast and Shane De Hope, who owns Santa Monica Pedicab, said they would like to see the bike path regulations relaxed.
“Realistically, during the summer on the weekends we probably wouldn’t be able to go on the bike path,” De Hope said. “But during the week, or in the off-season, it’s pretty much empty.”
He plans to circulate a petition asking for some leniency on the bike path. Unlike the Segways and motorized bikes that are allowed on the bike path, he said, pedicabs go slow and therefore to do not present a safety hazard.
Santa Monica Pedicab is one of the largest operators in the city. They have 10 registered vehicles and 24 registered drivers, according to City Hall’s report, although, De Hope said, drivers come and go frequently.
“(City Hall) has been pretty fair with us so far,” he said. “Compliance officers came out and talked to us about staying out of the public right-of-ways but nobody got a ticket.”
Pedicabs were seen parking in taxi stands, red zones, and other prohibited areas, city officials said.
City Hall has no plan to build staging areas for the pedicabs but De Hope is hoping to persuade them otherwise.
“It would give us structure,” he said. “We would know where we can park and where we can’t.”
Code Enforcement officers did two rounds of spot checks in December. Two citations were given for unsafe driving.
At this point, City Hall doesn’t plan to recommend any changes.
“The program is still new and the market is still making adjustments,” city officials said.