Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Pedicab operators finally begin open dialogue with NPS and Park Police

April 18, 2012 - 01:43 PM
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(Photo: John Hendel)

Last week the National Park Service released a tentative draft of the regulations that will dictate pedicab life on the National Mall. Tuesday evening the federal organization asked pedicab operators for their feedback at the NPS headquarters and received plenty— dozens of operators showed up, and NPS, to their great credit, presented the regulations as clearly as possible, with three presentation stations, repeated invitations for comment, and a persistent acknowledgment that these regulations are still evolving and ready for discussion. On the NPS cafeteria table were many copies of proposed pedicab routes, stations, and copies of the rules, with more than a half dozen officials on hand to answer questions. Shortly after 6 p.m., Bob Vogel, the NPS superintendent of the National Mall, called the meeting to order and explained the ideas behind the tentative regulations. NPS will accept comments through May 2, and although NPS officials hesitate to pin down specific dates, they hope to enact new pedicab regulations by the beginning of June.

"We also want to listen to you," Vogel told the pedicab operators. "We want to offer a wide range of transportation options for our visitors."

Capital Bikeshare's arrival on the Mall, Vogel continued, has been a "tremendous success," with three stations open and two more to come. He wants NPS to continue as "an advocate for pedicabs."

What will all these rules mean? As proposed, they demand that operators stick to the stations and routes, negotiate fares before passengers board, carry a photo ID, keep to certain pedicab standards and certain behaviors (no drunk pedicabbing!), and perhaps most controversially, carry some form of insurance. Many pedicab companies already feature some element of insurance for their operators for purposes of accountability, background checks, and so on. Pedicabs will need general liability insurance: "The policy shall be in the amount of $1,000,000 combined single limit, applying to bodily injury and property damage claims, and underwritten by a United States company naming the United States of America (National Park Service, National Mall and Memorial Parks) as additional insured." But what about independent operators? Under new rules, according to NPS concessions specialist Gordy Kito, an independent operator's insurance would run about $800 to $1,200. The details of these insurance provisions are, however, very much evolving, he told me.

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Bob Vogel speaks. (Photo: John Hendel)

"The insurance is the key point as of now, but we are working towards a
resolution on it with our broker and underwriter," Ben Morris, the San Francisco-based owner of National Pedicabs, told me by e-mail. He and Kito have already begun talking through the insurance rules. "I anticipate this process still has several more weeks if not months to fully resolve itself. Time will tell."

Pedicab operators, for their part, immediately began asking questions of the NPS officials after Vogel's presentation and the dialogue appeared productive. Together they stared at large maps of the Mall and debated the safety of different avenues, sidewalks, and the dynamics of geography. Part of the beauty of the meeting was the clarification. NPS deputy superintendent Stephen Lorenzetti laid out the jurisdictional complications and pointed out what land NPS controls versus what land the District controls versus other entities like the Architect of the Capitol. The operators I talked to expressed pleasure and surprise at how open the conversation seemed to be but mentioned reservations, too. "I'm much more pleased that there's a process going on," pedicab operator Robert Hart said. Some initial fears followed the NPS announcement last Friday, but multiple pedicabbers were happy to already see updated maps of routes and pedicab stops (added to the NPS website today). Pedicabber Aaron Stanley is happy there's a meeting but notes that insurance may be "the real wild card." Nathan Pierce of National Pedicabs also said he was satisfied with the possibility of dialogue but hoped a second meeting might be possible before the regulations are enacted this summer. Better to avoid pedicabber surprise when the regulations hit, Pierce explained. NPS's Kito said a second meeting, held after the comments come in but before final enactment, would be possible but might push back the regulatons' start date by about two weeks.

And what of the stories about countless pedicab citations and alleged harassment from U.S. Park Police? The Park Police arrested two operators in late March.

"We're not looking to lock anybody up," Park Police Captain Kathleen Harasek, commander of the Central District including the Mall, told me.

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(Photo: John Hendel)

Park Police enforce traffic rules on the Mall, yes, and she acknowledges the gray areas that exist in that traffic environment, but she denies there's any agenda against pedicab operators. Park Police, she says, actually are rather "lenient" with operators. "We see exchange of money," Harasek said, but Park Police don't crack down on pedicabbers for it. If they did, pedicab operators would receive $50 tickets any time Park Police saw them accepting fares (currently, at least, prior to the formal Commercial Use Agreement in process). Federal rules require all commercial activity on the Mall to be regulated, hence the NPS's new Commercial Use Agreement for pedicabs and the call for negotiated fares and operator insurance. And why do courts, as both operators and owners have contended, consistently seem to dismiss pedicab citations? Harasek says that the review of tickets is outside of Park Police purview and handled by the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication. Pedicab operator Pierce alluded to these citations in conversation with me and suggested they were arbitrary, dependent on officers, time of day, and day of the week. Harasek told the gathered operators that she has "been part of the process all along. We're here to listen to you folks."

Two weeks of public commenting remain, so lend your voice now on the Mall's new regulations. The future of D.C. transportation, tourism, and the District's emerging pedicabbing industry depends on it!

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Tentative map of the new order on the Mall. (Photo: NPS)
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