This week Mark Field introduced a Pedicabs Bill in parliament in a bid to deal with rickshaws operating in Central London. The numbers of pedicabs have exploded over the past few years and, aside from the regular aggravation they cause local residents and other road users, there is increasing concern that these unlicensed, unregulated vehicles may cause a serious accident.
Each year, twenty MPs are selected in a parliamentary ballot to put forward their own Private Member’s Bill. A Private Member’s Bill allows an MP to propose a law of their choice. Very few ever actually make it onto the statute book as there is not enough parliamentary time in each session to debate them. However they are helpful in publicising the issue at hand and often influence subsequent legislation. Mark was drawn twentieth in the ballot just before Christmas. Realistically this means it is unlikely the Pedicabs Bill will ever be made law. However it represents an important step in his campaign to control the burgeoning problem of pedicabs, building on the Westminster Hall debate he called on the issue back in 2007.
So why are pedicabs a problem? Pedicabs are often used by tourists and visitors to the West End for short journeys. With the approach of the Olympics and the attendant growth in tourism, it is becoming even more urgent to ensure that the safety of visitors is not compromised by an uncontrolled pedicab industry. Numbers of pedicabs operating in Central London, particularly the West End, have increased sharply in recent years. In 2003 it was estimated that there were around 200 pedicabs on the street; by the end of September 2008 the industry estimated that this number had risen to about 900 and rising.
Under current traffic regulations there is no way to licence, register or otherwise control pedicabs. There is therefore little control over the type and quality of vehicles that are used, whilst riders of pedicabs are not required to hold appropriate insurance and do not have to meet competence requirements.
Similarly, local authorities have no way of enforcing contraventions of parking and moving traffic regulations which are regularly disobeyed by many pedicab riders. Such contraventions might include running red lights, riding the wrong way up one-way streets, or obstructing the flow of traffic.
Such behaviour places other road users at risk and endangers pedicab passengers, who may be riding in a poorly maintained cab that offers little protection in an accident. As Mark has frequently said, ‘The streets of the West End of London, in particular, Soho and Covent Garden, have become a dangerous free-for-all. I worry that it is a matter of when, rather than if, a very serious accident – perhaps even a fatality – occurs involving one of the unlicensed rickshaws or pedicabs that have proliferated so strikingly on London’s thoroughfares. That situation is not acceptable in a 21st-century global marketplace such as London.’
In the two years from January 2007 to December 2008 (the last for which we have full details) there were 13 accidents in Westminster which were recorded as involving pedicabs. Six of these incidents resulted in serious injuries, and one involved a pedicab mounting the pavement and crashing into a restaurant window.
However, because there is no official class of ‘pedicab,’ these figures rely on Police officers using the phrase “pedicab” or “rickshaw” in accompanying notes. The real figure for accidents involving pedicabs may therefore be much higher.
In an even more worrying development, towards the end of 2008 it became apparent that some riders were adding electric motors to their pedicabs, enabling them to ride at speeds of up to 20 mph. Within a matter of days six illegally modified cabs were seized, and seven riders were arrested, including one for breach of parole. As a result of the operation – which relied for its force on the additional weight of the motorised system – it is believed that electric powered pedicabs have disappeared from London. However this has not addressed the underlying safety concerns about both the quality of cabs and the fitness of riders to trade.
Mark’s Pedicabs Bill represents an important step in the journey to controlling the numbers of pedicabs and making those that remain safe for the many visitors that enjoy them each year. While it make not even make it onto the statute book, Mark hopes that his Bill will raise the profile of this issue and help with the case for having primary legislation finally to deal with the out-of-control pedicab industry.