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City looks to tap the brakes on Austin’s pedicab fleet

Looking to thin the herd of pedicabs on city streets, Austin transportation officials have asked the City Council to set a cap of 300 permits. That would be cut of 40 percent from the 503 permitted pedicab vehicles currently on the books — and on the streets during various big events downtown.

However, the ordinance, which the council is slated to consider Thursday, would rely on attrition to trim the fleet rather than mandating an immediate cut. In the same ordinance, the council will consider outlawing the trailer-style cabs by July 31, 2016 in favor of the more stable, and thus safer, tricycle versions.

The trike versions typically cost about $3,000, said Phil Seidenberg, manager of Ride Lease in Austin, about three times what the trailer types run. A permit in Austin costs $250 a year for each pedicab, and drivers must pay $20 every two years for a chauffeur’s license. As of Monday, Austin had 1,274 licensed pedicab drivers.

Seidenberg, whose company operates in several cities and has about 60 pedicabs here, had no problem with either change.

“There’s really not that many trailers left in Austin,” he said. City officials estimate there are 50 to 60 now, a figure that’s declining. “Most of the companies have switched over because the insurance rates for the trailers are very expensive.”

As for 300-permit cap, Seidenberg said that the city, if anything, is being too lenient. He would prefer that the city quickly reduce the number of permits, perhaps apportioning the cut between the larger pedicab companies in town. Austin has 21 companies with pedicab permits.

“Most cities have a cap and they enforce it pretty aggressively,” he said. “We have more than half the permits that New York has, and we’re maybe a 15th of the size. The ordinance as proposed is pretty lax.”

Austin’s pedicab fleet exploded over the past few years, even as the city was rushing to gets it bureaucratic arms around the new industry. Back in 2007, city officials have said, Austin had about 100 pedicabs. In April 2012, when the council imposed a moratorium on new permits, there were 340. But in the 11 days before the ordinance took effect, companies rushed to pay for more permits and the number spiked to more than 500.

The ordinance before the council this week would lift that moratorium, but no new permits would be issued until the total falls before 300.

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