Manhattan tourists stuck with $442 bill for 12-minute pedicab ride
New York weighs plan to cut pedicab fares.
The New York Times
NEW YORK — In citing examples of the sort of "predatory, deceptive practices" that have turned the pedicab industry into "Midtown's Wild West," Councilman Daniel Garodnick used the experience of Brenda Rodriguez's family as Exhibit A.
The family's 12-minute pedicab ride in Midtown Manhattan in August cost $442 — a sum that they reluctantly paid. Rodriguez said it had seemed "crazy, but we had never been on a pedicab ride before."
Under new regulations that the City Council's Committee on Consumer Affairs considered Thursday, that same ride might have cost as little as $20.
The committee is proposing a requirement that pedicabs charge passengers by the minute instead of using a complex formula based on the number of blocks and avenues traversed, which often leaves tourists shocked by the bill at the end of the ride.
The rates would have to be posted in large type visible from the curb and the pedicabs would be outfitted with timers under the proposed changes, which the Department of Consumer Affairs endorsed.
"What we don't want is the surprises at the end," said Garodnick, the chairman of the committee.
Rodriguez, her husband, Mark, and their two young daughters had been visiting the city from their home in South Texas for about a week when they went to see "Mary Poppins" at the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street in early August. After the show, they were rushing to keep a dinner reservation on 55th Street when a pedicab driver called out to them.
When the driver explained that he accepted credit cards and that he charged a small sum per block, they piled in. But after a trip of no more than 15 blocks, the driver delivered the stunning tally: $442.54.
That total, he explained, incorporated a charge of $100 per passenger, including the girls, who are 7 and 9. When challenged, the driver brandished his rate card, which listed all of the additional fees. Then, he asked for a tip.
"I literally said,'Sir, are you kidding?"' Rodriguez recalled.
He was not and, unless the regulations are changed, a similar situation could play out in Times Square or Central Park again, because pedicabs are allowed to set their own rates so long as they spell them out on rate cards. Some already charge by the minute but many employ a pricing formula that resembles algebra more than simple arithmetic, said Laramie Flick, the president of the New York City Pedicab Owners' Association.
End-of-ride disputes over unexpectedly high fares are so common that hotel doormen often have to act as referees between stunned tourists and insistent pedicab drivers, Flick said.
"Our industry is in crisis now because of price gouging," he told the committee.
Flick and some other owners and drivers of pedicabs voiced support for the idea of charging by the minute and posting the rates in large type to reduce confusion. But one owner, Gregg Zuman, said that the council had "created this unbelievable environment in which scams can just blossom" with its previous regulations. One driver, Ibrahim Donmez, insisted that the only way to eliminate all of the gouging would be to do away with rate cards altogether.
One proposal that the owners and drivers agreed on was the display, on the back of each driver's bicycle seat, of per-minute rates.
"People always look at our posteriors," Flick explained.