Monserrate Rides to the Rescue of NYC Pedicabs

Mayor Bloomberg stunned political observers when he put off signing and then vetoed a bill regulating pedicabs in New York City—legislation that many drivers fear will put them out of business. But Council speaker Christine Quinn vowed to override the mayor's veto out of principle, and as of last week, most figured she had the votes to do just that, much to the chagrin of the pedicab drivers.

Now riding into that standoff comes Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, a scrappy ex-cop from Queens, who on Monday submitted a substitute bill with significantly lighter restrictions on drivers.

Specifically, Monserrate's bill would raise the cap on pedicabs from a flat 325 to 500 per borough, remove a proposed ban on electric assist motors, and drop the requirement that pedicabbies hold a New York State driver's license.

"You don't need a driver's license to ride a bicycle, so why should you need one to drive a pedicab?" Monserrate says. "My concern is the negative impact this could have on immigrants who drive pedicabs who may not have a driver's license, and also many NYC residents who may not have driver's licenses either."

Monserrate proposes requiring pedicabbies to pass a "fitness test" administered by the Department of Consumer Affairs to ensure they know the rules of the road and how to get around the city.

More than grandstanding on policy, Monserrate says his aim was "write a better bill."

His draft legislation goes a long way toward answering the pedicab industry's complaint that an overall cap of 325 pedicabs in New York could squash small-fleet owners and individual drivers in this burgeoning eco-biz.

(Back in 2005, Quinn introduced a bill at the behest of the taxi and horse and carriage lobbies that would have banned all pedicabs from midtown. Many see the current bill as just another way to achieve that ban.)

"My major concern about the current legislation is that it will, in essence, legislate people onto the unemployment lines," explains Monserrate, who is co-chair of the Council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and a staunch defender of immigrant rights.

"The current bill sets the cap at 325, and clearly there's more pedicabs." (The NYC Pedicab Owners' Association estimates there are currently more than 500 operating in the city.)

And though Monserrate agrees there are problems with pedicab congestion in midtown, he feels there are better solutions, such as pedicab stands and a proposal by the industry to limit the number of pedicabs allowed to cluster on a block to five.

"Many times there are 20 to 30 taxi cabs on the block, and there we're not only getting the crowding but the pollution that comes with it," Monserrate notes. "Why should we impose restrictions on one type of transportation that we don't impose on another?"

In fact, Monserrate says capping the industry at 325 pedicabs will have the perverse effect of concentrating all the drivers in Manhattan while preventing this environmentally friendly form of transit from spreading to the outer-boroughs.

"For instance, in my district, I would like to see pedicabs meeting people at the train stations on Roosevelt Avenue and taking them to Shea Stadium and through Flushing Meadows Park to Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Queens Museum of Art and the Zoo," he explains.

Monserrate expects several other council members to sign on to his alternative bill, which he hopes to formally introduce later this week.

"Besides the Mayor's veto, there were 11 council members who voted against or abstained from voting on the current bill we have now," he notes. "Clearly there's enough concern that we shouldn't just vote to override out of principle. I really feel that to simply vote on some notion of legislative principle is irresponsible."

Maria Alvarado, a spokesperson for Speaker Quinn, said she was not familiar with Monserrate's draft and could not comment on it. "At this point, we do intend to pursue an override," Alvarado told the Voice.

The Mayor's veto will be formally accepted by the Council on Thursday, which means the earliest Quinn could schedule a vote to override is during the next stated Council meeting on April 23.

But Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who presided over the hearings on Intro 331-A as chair of the Council's Consumer Affairs committee, may be more open to compromise.

"We're taking a wait and see attitude on whether to pursue the override or whether there is consensus to rewrite the bill," says Comrie's press spokesperson, Rance Huff.

"Comrie wants to see the industry flourish and is more than willing to go back to the table," Huff added.

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