For four years, Philip Seidenberg has had a simple dream: bringing his pedicab company to Miami so locals and tourists can avoid traffic around downtown with people-powered wheels. But he says a city famous for its nightmarish public transit has effectively banned his three-wheeled taxis from entering the market.
“Pedicabs are a staple in green transportation, yet the City of Miami continues to sideline our attempts to operate,” the 36-year-old from Boynton Beach says.
Even though Miami has an ordinance on the books allowing up to 100 pedicabs, Seidenberg says severe restrictions and permitting delays have prevented him or anyone else from getting approved. As a result, Miami is one the few major metro areas without a single pedicab registered, according to the city's Department of Finance.
But Noel Chavez, a business tax receipts supervisor for the Department of Finance, contends that "every city has its rules and regulations that are enacted for the safety of its residents [and the] general public." The restrictions are simply enforced to ensure public safety, he adds, noting that 54-year-old pedicab driver Ellis Bernard Smith was fatally struck by a GMC Sierra on West Sunrise Boulevard in Broward while on his pedicab.
Seidenberg is no rookie in the pedicab game. For more than a decade, his company Kween Cab has operated in cities, including Orlando, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, and Austin, Texas. In Orlando alone, Seidenberg has contracts with about three dozen drivers, who on a busy night will transport more than 1,200 passengers. During the recent Electric Daisy Carnival in Orlando, each driver earned $300 to $500.
Seidenberg says Miami — a hip, outdoorsy and busy city with plenty of late-night clubs and bars — is ideal for pedicab services. He says his drivers could make serious cash outside the American Airlines Arena or Marlins Park or ferrying people around Coconut Grove or Wynwood.
"Wherever parking is an issue or people have to walk multiple blocks to get to their cars, pedicabs offer a fun and affordable alternative," Seidenberg says.
But the city hasn't allowed that to happen. Since applying with Miami's Department of Public Works in 2013, Seidenberg has faced an absurd number of administrative obstacles, he says.
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Miami's municipal code limits any pedicab company to operating only ten decals at a time and requires companies to submit detailed route maps — which can't include residential neighborhood streets, state streets, or county streets. City officials have further narrowed the criteria to streets with speed limits of 30 mph or under, barring the majority of Miami's roads.
"No other city has ever asked me to lay out a route map as part of a permit application," Seidenberg says. "Pedicabs operate on unfixed routes and provide both prebooked and unscheduled service. The only other city I know of to request a street-specific route map is San Francisco due to the steep roadway gradient."
Seidenberg argues that Miami's ordinance is "irrational" and "discriminatory" because the same restrictions don't apply to taxicabs, limousines, shuttle services, or bicycles. And as part of his application process, Seidenberg says, it took him four months and a public information request to get the name and address of the location to take his pedicabs for inspection and who his point of contact should be.
"Most major cities welcome pedicabs as a novelty and green form of transportation, but our experience with Miami has been like a customer service phone-call game," Seidenberg says. "It's like they hope we get so demoralized that we quit."