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    HomeBusinessPedicabs in London: Changes Afoot 

    Pedicabs in London: Changes Afoot 

    Ever since they were introduced to London’s roads in 1998, pedicabs have occupied a controversial place in the capital’s transport mix.

    Because legally they aren’t classed as hackney cabs or carriages, the foot-powered bicycles-cum-buggies operate in a legal grey area, one that is set to become much more black and white in 2024.

    Recent Developments in London

    In November’s King’s Speech, the government announced that it is determined to “deal with the scourge of unlicensed pedicabs” that ply for trade in the country’s capital.

    Legislation is long overdue. Not a year goes by without a local or national politician wagging a finger at the sector and suggesting a sheriff is needed to bring some kind of order to the “Wild West” of London’s rickshaws.

    A notable intervention on the subject came from Boris Johnson, who, back in 2011, used his platform as London Mayor to call on the government to give the local transport authority, TfL, the powers to clamp down on rogue pedicabs, especially ones that failed to meet “rigorous safety and licensing standards”.

    The appeal fell on deaf ears.  As did a more recent pair of private members’ bills, one brought by Cities of London and Westminster MP Nickie Aiken and the other by Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam.

    Neither made it past a second reading.

    As such, it has been left up to the courts and local bobbies to step in from time to time to rein in some of the more egregious behaviour of certain drivers, such as their fondness for blasting bhangra tinnily from Bluetooth speakers, gumming up pedestrian thoroughfares and gouging unsuspecting tourists.

    Since November 2021, the courts have punished ill-behaved pedicabbers in Westminster with fines amounting to £29,987, more often than not for charging exorbitant fares and pumping out noise pollution.

    Still, pedicabs remain the favourite mode of transport among certain demographics and have carved out a niche for themselves zipping boozed-up locals and tourists around the West End, Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Soho.

    A Legal Loophole

    a-legal-loophole

    In law, a pedal-powered conveyance that plies for trade in the capital is not considered a hackney carriage, and so the licensing requirements laid out in the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 don’t apply to them.

    Instead, such a vehicle qualifies as a ‘stage carriage’ because the operator charges each passenger a separate fare. This was confirmed in the case R (Oddy) v. Bugbugs Ltd, which involved Bugbugs, one of the first pedicab companies to set up shop in London.

    Since the ruling, Bugbugs has been joined by scores of rival companies and freelance pedalers. How many we can’t be sure, for no one seems to know how many of them are. The bill drawn up to regulate pedicabs puts the figure at somewhere between 200 and 900.

    Their status as stage carriages, regulation of which lapsed in 1999, allows pedicabs to enjoy advantages not available to other types of transport. A state of affairs that particularly irks their main competitor, black cabs, and often stirs the regulatory zeal of local and national politicians.

    Most controversially, London’s pedicabbers are free to set fares as they see fit. This has meant some drivers regard the business as something of a cash cow and a quick and easy way to make money in London.

    A short jaunt can be pricey. A scenic one, extortionate. It is not unknown for a 10-minute pleasure ride along one of the capital’s more tony thoroughfares to set a passenger back £500.

    Fair Pedicab Fares

    That said, among London’s more legitimate rickshawers, it is customary for prices to be advertised in advance, with £20 per person for a trip to Buckingham Palace or the London Eye typical.

    Some Pedicab operators even have their own apps, with a breakdown of prices available for customers to browse.

    Pedal Me, which was founded by Ben Knowles, is one such company. It shuttles both passengers and parcels around the environs of Ludgate Circus. Its pedal-powered cabs must be hailed via its smartphone app or website, both of which give the price of the journey up front.

    The company charges £9.30 to pick up a passenger and then a modest £1.50 per mile.

    Pedicab Problems

    pedicab-problems

    Unfortunately, Pedal Me is the exception, not the rule, as far as fare setting is concerned among London’s pedicabbers.

    In fact, the sector has gained a reputation for gouging customers, especially in the more touristy parts of the capital.

    According to the Evening Standard, visitors are routinely charged almost £42 a mile for short trips.

    Just as worryingly, there is no requirement for drivers to undergo criminal record or right-to-work checks.

    This means the business of ferrying folk up and down London has become a magnet for workers with questionable right-to-work bona fides who have little to no experience of piloting laden bikes through busy streets.

    As far as safety is concerned, some pedicabs are fitted with seatbelts – not all are – but passengers are under no obligation to fasten them.

    TfL data from 2019 show there were 13 collisions resulting in personal injury, with 12 of these being characterised as slight and one injury as serious.

    In 2022, a woman riding a rickshaw was killed and her driver injured when a drunk driver wiped out their stationary pedicab in Southwark.

    Pedicab Business Model

    Most pedicab drivers don’t own the rickshaws they drive but rent them from the owner for a fee.

    According to the company LondonRickshaws, if the rider is willing to tackle the job with “enough good energy and enthusiasm”, it is possible to take home £250-£500 for 28-35 hours of work. This sum is post the rental fee paid to the bike’s owner (£60).

    Naturally, pedicab riders tend to be fit young men – although women ride too – who are capable of shifting a vehicle that when fully laden might weigh upwards of 40 stones.

    A low gear gives a leg up on the more strenuous parts of the trip, and a typical pedicab comes fitted with 21 of them, the lowest one allowing it to get going again once it has come to a standstill at a set of traffic lights.

    Drivers for LondonRickshaws, like many in the business, are self-employed. After a brief period of training, familiarisation with the highway code and the payment of a security deposit, riders are free to ply for trade among the public using its rickshaws.

    Pedicab Pluses

    pedicab-pluses

    Given the litany of their misdemeanours, it is easy to think pedicabs have no business being out and about on the streets.

    However, there is an argument to be made that pedicabs add something unique to the capital’s transport mix and are a boon to its economy. Not to mention that they are an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuel-powered types of conveyance.

    As Lord Davies of Gower reminded the HoL during the second reading of the proposed bill, pedicabs “complement London’s vibrant night-time economy, and the entrepreneurial spirit shown by many operators demonstrates the opportunities available to those willing to work hard and get on”.

    And it is easy to forget that there are scores of legitimate companies out there, some of which have taken it upon themselves to introduce ad hoc rules and regulations.

    Pedicab Best Practice

    In fact, in a bid to bring some order to the chaos of London’s pedicabs, a group banded together to establish the London Pedicabs Operators Association (LPOA) in 2002.

    Led by BugBugs, a first mover in London’s pedicab scene, the group encourages members to comply with the 2006 pedicab consultation with the Public Carriage Office (PCO).

    Association members oblige new hires to provide a full passport or driving licence, proof they have the right to work in the UK and a full postal address before they can ride.

    BugBugs itself goes a step further and requires its riders to undergo a cycling proficiency course (National Cycling Standard Level 3) before they can venture out into London’s busy roads.

    Its drivers are also familiarised with the mechanics of the pedicabs they ride and the company’s passengers are encouraged to strap into inertial seatbelts, which afford some protection in the event of a prang.

    Pedal Me, which is not part of the association, has also gone the extra mile and established a set of internal controls to police its 50 riders, all of whom are employees (not contractors) and each of whom is put through his paces before he is let loose on London’s roads.

    The Rickshaw Redemption

    the-rickshaw-redemption

    Sadly, not all pedicab outfits have signed up to the association’s rules or established their own safety protocols.

    A low point in London’s relationship with the rickshaws came in late 2022 when Westminster City Council and the Met police teamed up to introduce pedicab patrols and a leaflet campaign that encouraged people to “be careful what you get into”.

    The leaflets warned potential pedicab passengers about excessive fares, safety concerns and drivers who routinely ignore the highway code.

    If the pedicab business is to have any future and win the confidence of the public, regulation backed by legislation is needed.

    The government’s proposed bill might just do that. It contains nine substantive clauses, each dealing with many of the urgent issues that currently blight the pedicab business in London.

    Clause two of the bill does much of the heavy lifting of regulating the trade by proposing a regulatory regime that gives TfL the powers to oversee and licence pedicabs, as it does other forms of public transport in the city.

    Pedicab Industry Response

    The chairman of the LPOA, Friedel Schroder, speaking to LBN, welcomed (cautiously) the proposed legislation:

    “It has been viewed by our members in general with positivity but [it] would need some safeguards added to ensure that this green form of public transport is not wiped out,” he says.

    It is a sentiment shared by Knowles:

    “As a business with fairly tight internal controls, we strongly support sensible regulation,” he says. “I think sensible regulations will increase the use of pedicabs.”

    “But we should note that repeated attempts to regulate the sector have ended with unworkable regulations that have been overly influenced by lobbies that would rather see pedicabs stamped out as competition, and therefore not ended up as passable bits of legislation.”

    Parliament reconvenes after its Christmas recess in the second week of January. It is to be hoped that the next cycle of politics will finally bring some order to London’s pedicab business scene.

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    LBN ReporterFreelance Journalist & Content Creator
    Content creator and contributor, freelance journalist and writer.
    LBN Reporter
    LBN Reporter
    Content creator and contributor, freelance journalist and writer.
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