Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

The plight of the Mall's pedicabbers: 'If I see you again, I'll just arrest you'

May 15, 2012 - 10:53 AM
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(Photo: flickr/elvertbarnes)

News flash — the U.S. Park Police and pedicab operators don't exactly get along on the National Mall.

Oskar Mosco, a manager for National Pedicabs twice arrested now, pretended to videotape Park Police officers in the moments preceding his second arrest in late March but now has begun truly recording moments of friction in the territory where dozens of his colleagues transport tourists and residents alike in a burgeoning industry that exists in regulatory limbo. Two days ago, one Park Police officer issued Mosco four citations that "appear to be retaliatory in nature for my shooting this footage of his interaction with another pedicab operator," he told me. The tickets were for distracted driving, not signaling, obstructing, and for parking in a no parking zone, according to Mosco, and amount to $255 ... but the pedicab operator isn't worried. He suspects these tickets, like countless others issued to pedicab operators, will be dismissed. Mosco has been outspoken in calling such behavior harassment for more than half a year now.

Four tickets in one day does sound harsh. Factor in Mosco's two past arrests, and he may be the most notorious pedicabber on the National Mall. The first arrest, which occurred last November, was dismissed in early spring. The second arrest, which alleges assault and involved a bloodied throwdown of Mosco in front of the Museum of Natural History, is ongoing, with a pre-trial hearing set for May 24 and trial on June 1. Other incidents of citation, threats, and arrests began receiving attention last year, such as when Park Police forced college student Sarah Roberts down onto the pavement as they handcuffed her on account of not immediately providing identification in June of 2011.

The video clips Mosco has begun releasing in the last week are hardly damning or comprehensive takes on what's transpiring on the National Mall, but they provide the tone of how pedicab operators interact with Park Police. See these couple clips, which allegedly sparked the "retaliation" of four tickets:

"If I see you again, I'll just arrest you," an officer tells one of the pedicab operators before ordering Mosco off of National Park Service land, too.

The National Mall falls largely under National Park Service control and U.S. Park Police enforcement. No pedicab regulations yet dictate how these operators need to operate, but the NPS has proposed rules, with requirements for routes, stands, and insurance, which were open to public comment until May 2. The NPS hopes to make these rules official by early summer. Among the comments was concern about this very friction with Park Police. Consider pedicab operator Donald Clark's comments:

Sounds perfect, right? An open-air tour around the Mall for the grandparents, and a nice opportunity for the pedicabber. Well, a Park Police officer, on a motorcycle, had been eyeing me the whole time from a vantage point near Memorial Bridge. So concurrent to her parents arriving, on the sidewalk from the Vietnam Memorial, the excited Park Police officer pounced. Just when the middle-aged daughter said, "Wonderful, here they are!" the Park Police motorcycle zoomed up and he yelled out -as they were standing next to my cab, "Move it!" I replied, politely, "Sir, they had flagged me down, and I was just leaving." He tersely replied, "I'd been watching you for the last few minutes, now MOVE IT!"

Well, at that point, facing a ticket/s, arrest? I "moved it", much to the chagrin of the two tired grandparents, who looked confused and deeply disappointed. For my part, I too was disappointed and drove away with a deep sense of frustration and anger. Frustration that I could not serve this needy elderly couple, and anger that all those who witnessed this encounter likely had the impression that I must have committed a criminal or unsafe act to be driven away like that.

What happened here is not an ideal transportation scenario. Pedicab operators have, across the board, struck me as not inherently hostile to Park Police. They want to get along just as the Park Police spokesman and Captain Kathleen Harasek emphasize they want to foster peace. But a lack of trust has created problems. "A pedicab driver is not a machine or a draft animal," pedicab operator Robert Hart writes in public comments about the provision that operators stick to marked pedicab standing and parking areas. "We are worried the U.S. Park Police will interpret these stands as a mandate to restrict all pedicab operations solely to these limited areas and prohibit drivers from stopping anywhere else. To not allow pedicab drivers to rest in the shade during the extreme heat of a Washington summer may risk the health and safety of the driver." Pedicab operators see no clear set of rules and what feels like arbitrary enforcement; the Park Police captain in charge of the Mall, meanwhile, offers supportive words for the industry and says that they've already selectively enforced rules in favor of pedicab operators (Park Police, she told me, could ticket operators every time they solicit customers but choose not to — although the videos above show officers may threaten to ticket and arrest on those grounds).

Trust is critical to the Park Police officers and pedicabs coexisting on the National Mall, and the culture right now continues to suggest deeper frictions. The National Park Service and the Park Police quite successfully held an open meeting on the new proposed rules in late April, but one meeting is not enough to fix the culture amid the heat and attitudes of the Mall.

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