Wednesday was an ominous day for three-wheeled taxis. As New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg hesitated over signing a bill which would regulate the Big Apple's three- to four-hundred strong pedicab industry, the Miami Beach City Commission discussed a possible ordinance which would have established a single-vendor bike taxi business, operating along the oceanfront. No action was taken, but the commission noted a general consensus that such an ordinance had no support.
The idea to use bicycles to ferry around South Beach's tourists, drunks, and revelers is the longtime dream of beach resident Felipe Sï¿½es Azenha, who has pursued his ambition doggedly for some five years now. "It's the prefect form of transportation for a city which is so densely populated," insists Azenhas. "Miami Beach has the second highest population density in the country, after NYC. . . an automobile isn't necessarily the most efficient mode."
Azhenhas was crushed by the commission's cold feet on Wednesday. "I mean, this has gone on for half a decade, no joke. I've met with each one of the commissioners, personally, several times. I've been warmly received, too -- most of them have seemed to have liked the idea . . . I was expecting the ordinance [to] pass."
Azenha had lobbied hard for the commission to license a single vendor, reasoning that much of the squeamishness around pedicabs in other cities — they're unsafe, they're chaotic, they don't follow traffic rules — is the result of over-saturation from rinky-dink, unregulated gypsy companies. As Azenha envisioned things, the license would be put up for bidding; he, of course, had hoped to win the bid.
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"From my point of view, I was taking a risk here," he says. "My company wouldn't necessarily have won the contract . . . but I believe that's the best thing for the city."
The Commission, apparently, disagrees. "I think it's an issue of safety," says commissioner Jerry Libbin, who did not favor the ordinance. "There were a number of concerns that I have with the area where people could safely board or get off the vehicles. . . plus, the way the ordinance was drafted, the pedicab was going to be allowed to park when not in use, in legal parking spaces."
Ah, parking: the force before which miles of bike lanes, entire Master Plans, even, will crumble like sandcastles in the tide.
For his part, Azhena is so bitter about the meeting that he's considering more drastic measures — "I'm frustrated, and I'm not sure where to go from here," he vents. "There's a loophole, where I could start operating for tips alone, but then I risk being arrested. . . civil disobedience is an option, but I don't necessarily want to take that option."--Isaiah Thompson