Yesterday, we received a late-day heads-up from a reader that there was an issue brewing with the pedicabs that offer rides to tourists and residents along the National Mall.
The entire issue seemed odd, as pedicabs have been operating on the Mall for a couple years now and haven’t had any issues up until yesterday, when they were told they would be arrested and their bikes impounded for soliciting and servicing customers on Madison and Jefferson streets, the two main boundary avenues of the Mall.
If the Park Police was correct, the Mall was going to lose a 100% eco-friendly form of transportation that serves hundreds of riders each week. The cabs provide jobs for the area and a friendly ‘green’ option for people to utilize. Taking away the Mall from them would kill a sizeable portion of the pedicab business.
So I set out to contact Ben Morris, the owner of National Pedicabs (and the company affected by this), and his DC operations manager, Danny Cochrane, as well as Sgt. David Schlosser, the National Park Service’s Public Information Officer, to find out just what the heck was going on.
It seems it all started on Monday, where two drivers on Madison around noon, were approached by a Park Police (PP) officer. The officer, upon finding out what the two drivers were doing – waiting for riders – told them “you can’t be down here getting rides” and informed them that even though the drivers worked for free, just tips, they were soliciting business, something not allowed along the Mall. The officer then told them they could not ride on the streets, only the gravel of the mall and the sidewalk boundaries, and that as soon as they started talking with someone about their business, it was soliciting and therefore, illegal. The PP then mentioned he was about to arrest a panhandler the next time he received change, so the drivers took that to mean they’d better follow the PP’s directive or risk being arrested.
About ten minutes later, farther down Madison, another pedicab driver had a flat and was awaiting a maintenance kit when he was also approached by a PP officer and told to leave Madison. The officer mentioned he’d gotten some complaints about peddlers and they were thus driving off all panhandlers from the Mall, including pedicabs. When questioned by the driver, the officer responded that the pedicab could drive on the sidewalk but as soon as they rang their bell or talked to someone about rides, they were soliciting. The PP then told the driver to inform his (the driver’s) boss that starting tomorrow – Tuesday – he would begin arresting drivers on Madison and Jefferson.
When the incidents were reported, Danny went directly to PP headquarters and was informed by an officer there:
“Tourmobile, who has a contract with the park service, was making a complaint about pedicabs and Park Services were pressuring PP to ticket pedicabs on Madison and Jefferson. I claimed that taxis and tour buses operate around the Mall all day long, and they informed him they had a permit to be there.”
Such a statement, however, directly contradicts a ruling put out by Vikki Keys, then Superintendent of the National Park Service National Mall and Memorial Parks. In a letter dated 9/6/2006 to John Zielke of DC Pedicab, LLC, she informed the owner that
It is the understanding of the park that pedicabs, or bicycle rickshaws, are for-hire non-interpretive transportation services which will operate in the downtown District of Columbia area. A pedicab, therefore, would be subject to park rules and regulations as established for commercial taxicab operations, and as such will not be permitted to operate on park sidewalks or trails. All commercial vehicles are restricted to park roads and taxicab parking is restricted to several designated areas throughout the park as outlined in the attached excerpt from the National Mall & Memorial Parks Compendium.
Note that the Superintendent mentions that pedicabs cannot operate on park sidewalks or trails, contrary to what the PP officer told the drivers this past week.
The Compendium that Ms. Keys referenced, states in Section 1.5 (c)(20):
Taxicabs, which include all non-interpretive vehicles for hire, such as pedi-cabs or bicycle rickshaws, are subject to the operational limitations at 36 C.F.R. 7.96(f)(3). They are also restricted to park roads and may not operate on park sidewalks or multi-use trails.
Sgt. Schlosser agreed, citing the same statue in my request to him regarding the situation, and noted that the regulation is available in many online sources and libraries. So it’s not some obscure regulation, but out in the public view. So this begs the question then, what exactly was the PP officer referring to then?
The guys at National Pedicab don’t believe they’re breaking any other ordinances. As they understand it, vendors on the Mall need a special license to exchange money, but because the pedicabs are technically free (just tips), they believe they are not affected by it. However, Danny mentioned that after the incident on Monday, he has since inquired if they do indeed need a license or permit; so far, their calls to the Permit department at the Park Police have yet to be returned.
Sgt. Schlosser did say that as of today, there have been no arrests nor impoundment of pedicabs particular to this regulation.
If the situation remains as it is now, the pedicab business will be hard hit. The drivers are demoralized after this incident. “They feel like they provide a valuable service, so to be told they can’t get rides on streets where 80% of their rides originate has definitely resulted in lost revenue for them and for the company over the last two days,” said Ben. “If this continues on, this can be detrimental to the success of National Pedicabs, and the business industry in the DC as we know it today.”
The NPS wasn’t aware of the situation, however, until I had contacted them. “I am not certain what officers have said, but if there is confusion, I appreciate you bringing it to our attention,” responded Sgt. Schlosser. “To assure that we serve the public as efficiently and fairly as possible, I will bring your concerns to the attention of the managers of the affected stations. Consistent information can be disseminated through methods such as roll-call training and bulletins distributed internally. Resolving confusion is the most important step in keeping communication open.”
And what is National Pedicabs doing? Danny replies, “Right now I am working diligently to address this situation with the Taxi Cab Commission, the Mayor’s office, and other regulatory agencies.”
We here at WeLoveDC really hope this is simply the case of an enthusiastic but misinformed PP officer, and that the pedicabs will resume business on the National Mall. I cannot believe that the NPS is willing to shut down a business that is 100% eco-friendly, employs over 45 jobs to District residents, and provides a viable and valuable source of transportation to visitors and locals that is frankly, unique and interesting to enjoy after a long day of walking.
I’ve asked Ben, Danny and Sgt. Schlosser to keep us informed; here’s to hoping for a positive outcome and that these great area conveyances return to the National Mall for all to enjoy.