Pedicabs and rickshaws bring much pleasure to city sightseers. Yet as vehicles, thanks to a legal loophole, they are not subject to safety laws. Should we be concerned?
In London, 1,400 of these rickshaws seek to attract tourists with their brightly coloured covers and music playing. Many cabbies, local residents and businesses want them banned or controlled. Either way, they remain the only form of public transport in London to be unregulated.
As a result, there is no requirement for insurance, fares are not fixed or consistent, and neither vehicle condition nor driver quality is assessed. The behaviour of some pedicab operators causes problems for businesses, as they block highways, harass customers and cause serious risk to visitors and workers.
There have been a few pedicab-related accidents in London. One man told the Evening Standard in 2016 how he had been knocked out and left with a broken cheekbone after being hit by a rickshaw, whose driver allegedly spat in the face of a member of staff in Covent Garden before pedalling away in a midnight hit and run.
Fortunately, there have been no deaths in the capital so far, though the fact that an off-duty soldier died after falling out of a pedicab in Edinburgh back in 2010 shows that it is very possible. Of course, accidents can happen whatever regime exists, but even the most basic checks will reduce the likelihood.
The other main concern with unregulated pedicabs is the lack of protection for passengers when it comes to fares. In 2016, an undercover filmmaker revealed examples of rickshaw drivers boasting about charging three Chinese tourists £350 each for a 35-minute ride, and charging £200-£300 to go the half mile from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus.
Through a 10-minute rule motion in Parliament, I have proposed the primary legislation required to allow the Mayor to introduce sensible regulations, a move supported by many businesses and residents’ groups who have come together to form the Regulate Pedicabs Coalition. These are: London MPs from all parties, Westminster council, Transport for London and the Department for Transport. With this support, I hope that I am pushing against an open door, but legislating is never straightforward.
The fact that London is the only part of the country where pedicabs are not regulated demonstrates the complication.
Pedicabs are considered to be hackney carriages under section 4 of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869, in every part of England and Wales, apart from London. In the capital, a legal anomaly means that they are treated as stage carriages, which are not subject to the same arrangement.
The leading court case about pedicabs in London reached the opposite conclusion to case law relating to the rest of England and Wales when looking at clarifying the position of this mode of transport.
Many cities across the world have looked to regulate pedicabs. Despite different contexts, several themes recur, such as pedicabs’ legal status as bicycles, passenger safety concerns and fare transparency. New York and Rome failed in their attempts to introduce a blanket ban, but San Diego successfully introduced comprehensive regulation.
San Diego City Council voted to strengthen regulations on pedicab operators following the death of a tourist in an accident. Pedicab operators there are required by law to display fares openly, and numbers are capped in high-traffic areas. They are banned from using metered parking spaces and drivers are required to carry proof of insurance and ensure that seatbelts are worn. Operators with criminal convictions are banned.
London is a global city with a positive international reputation. Some 20 million people come to our capital every year. It vies with Bangkok each year to be the most visited city on the planet. Although London has so much to offer visitors, we should not take our tourism industry for granted. Making sure that visitors have a wonderful experience, feel safe, get value for money and have a great time is vital to keeping those figures up and ensuring that people share positive stories about their trips with their friends and keep coming back.
My bill would enable TfL to develop a regulation system but does not prescribe what that system should be. However, there is every indication that TfL will conduct a background check of the driver and a safety inspection of vehicles, which are usually bought or rented from a few providers. There is also indication of placing a cap on fares or rates charged and set out sensible rules as to where and how drivers can park and tout for business.
This will allow Transport for London to give consumers, whether they are Londoners or visitors, protection against excessive fares and safety protection through driver and vehicle checks, and to give others, including pedestrians, local businesses and nearby residents, some peace through reasonable and proportionate regulation. Londoners are pressing for this small but significant change. Parliament needs to listen and respond.
The Pedicabs (London) Bill 2017-19 will have its second reading debate on 16 March 2018.
Paul Scully is MP for Sutton and Cheam.