NEW YORK - After receiving several complaints from unhappy customers and frustrated pedicab operators, 7 On Your Side Investigates examined price gouging by pedicab operators who ignore New York City laws about pricing and found handfuls of operators breaking the law.
One evening in Midtown near Times Square and popular Broadway shows, 7 On Your Side Investigates identified more operators breaking one or more of New York City's pedicab related laws than following them.
In many cases, unhappy riders wind up getting charged much more than they anticipated or thought they had agreed to.
7 On Your Side Investigates obtained receipts from customers for rides costing more than $200, $400, even $600.
"It's not right," said Jacqueline Grady, who was charged $182 for a ride from the theatre where she saw 'Wicked' with her daughter to the Sugar Factory where they were having dinner.
"I just expected, get a bike ride, it will be fun," Grady said. "I didn't expect to be gouged. I didn't want to stand there on the street and argue with him. So, I just gave him the money and chalked it up to being stupid on my part."
Janet Crawford had a similar experience while visiting NYC from Texas with her family. She said she was charged more than $200 for a five-minute ride.
"I thought, 'Oh my goodness, I've been scammed!' Crawford said. "Why didn't I do something right then? I didn't know what to do. I had my family with me and I didn't want to cause a scene. I didn't want to ruin our vacation by possibly ending up in jail."
It is not just customers getting hurt. Other pedicab operators complained that horror stories about pedicabs in NYC are scaring off potential riders.
"We look bad in front of all of the people, why? Because the street people who charge whatever they want," said a pedicab driver who asked to go by John. "The people who work in the street, they charge whatever they want, but the people who work in the park, we don't charge like that."
"For me I want them out," said Hakim Talbi, who has been a pedicab operator for nearly 20 years. "They have no respect for anybody."
Price Gouging is a big reason the city passed laws requiring operators to clearly disclose their price per minute up front on either side of their pedicab in font two inches high and again behind the bicycle seat.
Additionally, pedicab operators should use stopwatches to clearly time trips for riders.
7 On Your Side Investigates found pedicabs using incredibly tiny, hard to read font to post their prices on the side of their pedicabs, others advertised a flat rate but said they actually charged by the minute and many others didn't bother to post their prices at all.
One pedicab driver who identified himself as Bob, approached 7 On Your Side Investigates and talked about the importance of transparency in pricing.
"I'm an honest pedicab driver," Bob said. "Tell people the price and get them there quickly."
However, when 7 On Your Side Investigates observed Bob's pedicab, he was also failing to display his prices according to city laws.
"It's a stupid a** law," Bob exclaimed.
Other pedicab operators complained the agencies responsible for enforcement, the Department of Consumer Affairs, the New York Police Department and in certain cases, when pedicabs operate in city parks, the New York City Parks Department, focus their very-limited efforts largely on Central Park failing to bring true enforcement on the streets.
"We kind of thought they were just designing it to fail for us," said Peter Meitzler, owner of Manhattan Rickshaw Company. "I think, obviously, there is a game going on. You have all of these people coming into the industry looking for ways to exploit it. So, it's almost necessary for government to come in and regulate. Honest operators are being put in a corner and many have fallen in with it because what else can they do."
NYPD said 59 out of the 609 summons issued by police to pedicab operators between May 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017 were for failing to display pedicab rates.
Prior to May 1, NYPD did not track pedicab summons.
Initially, a DCA spokesperson told 7 On Your Side Investigates, "DCA does not have the authority to do random stops," and added that inspectors do participate in checkpoints established by the Parks Department.
That spokesperson said DCA, the Parks Department, and NYPD conducted one check point in Central Park in all of 2017.
When pressed by email, the spokesperson later said DCA did in fact engage in unannounced patrol inspections for rate sign posting compliance on parked pedicabs only in the streets or in Central Park.
In 2017, DCA inspected 396 pedicabs as part of patrol and checkpoint inspections combined and issued 103 violations, 11 of which were for improper signage, according to the spokesperson.
Despite requests, that spokesperson did not say how often unannounced patrols occurred in 2017.
Pedicab operators called encounters with DCA, "a once a year experience," during inspections, indicating enforcement by the consumer agency is lacking.
"NYC Council should stop ignoring this public issue and regulate the pedicabs with GPS Meters similar to the taxicabs. The law should be simplified to make it easier for the police to enforce and to make it practical for the pedicab drivers to follow," said Ibrahim Donmez, of New York Pedicab Services. "The per-minute rate should be capped at $3 per minute for the pedicabs to be a transportation alternative instead of staying as a scam-based menace to the public welfare."
Donmez has voluntarily tried to help price-gouged customers who mistakenly assumed the operators were associated with his company.
Donmez complains he has already pleaded for meaningful industry reforms and enforcement but that those pleas have gone unanswered by NYC officials.
"I believe pedicabs have a place in the transportation future of New York City," Donmez said. "I have zero tolerance for scammers. I want them gone. Pedicabs have to serve the public, not scam the public. The city (especially DCA) is very much hands off on this issue."
DCA declined repeated requests for interview with DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas but provided this statement:
""The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is deeply committed to doing everything within our power to protect consumers. We routinely inspect pedicabs to ensure that they are complying with all licensing requirements and offer consumer tips on our website to educate visitors and New Yorkers about pedicab regulations. DCA reminds consumers to check for the driver's DCA license and the posted rates before choosing to take a ride in a pedicab. The price of pedicab rides must be calculated per minute using a timer, the pedicab driver cannot charge tax, increase the price for additional passengers, or add other fees, and they must give passengers the official Pedicab Information Card. DCA encourages any consumers who witness illegal activity to take down the Pedicab Identifying Number (PID) displayed on the frame of the Pedicab and file a complaint at nyc.gov/dca or by calling 311."
Because city enforcement has made little impact on this issue, it's important for riders to be proactive before taking a trip.
Honest pedicab operators suggest discussing pricing up front, requesting to see an operator's pedicab license, and making sure to get a clear agreement on a price before taking a ride.