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Kaity Tong Headshot

Pedicab Junction

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So I'm standing on the corner of 54th and Fifth. I am often standing on this corner, for reasons too complicated to go into right now. The point being, I could not get a cab. Why? Well, as any self-respecting New Yorker knows, you can't get a cab anywhere in Manhattan between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. That's when, apparently, all cabs change shifts. So convenient, as it's rush hour. Oh, you'll see plenty of them cruising by. With their off-duty lights on, mocking you. As a longtime New Yorker, I know this, and yet, for some masochistic reason (Mercury in retrograde?) I found myself foolishly waving my arm at oncoming traffic.

The drivers who, just a moment ago, would have cut across fourteen lanes of traffic to get to you, now avoid eye contact. Or if you manage to get the attention of one by throwing your body directly into his path, he will slowly roll down his window, ask where you're going, and after you tell him, shake his head and speed off, running over your foot. And this invariably happens just as the one available cab in all of Manhattan at that hour drives by, while you're dickering with this guy who takes his sweet time telling you he's not going to take you anywhere.

But the point of this blog is not cabs. It's pedicabs. It appears the city now wants to impose a lot of tough rules on the pedicabs.

That day, the only way I was getting off the corner of 54th and Fifth was to jump into the back of a pedicab, powered by a young man who looked like he weighed less than me. And I don't weigh much. I sat in the carriage, watching my pedicabbie pumping his tough sinewy legs for all they were worth, down Fifth, across 41st, finally weaving through tight traffic on Third. And I swear he didn't even break a sweat. I actually found the ride quite fun, and would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been so uptight about getting to work on time.

I don't know how these guys (and the occasional gal) do it. I have seen some of them hauling tourists who would challenge the horsepower of a full-sized taxi.

And speaking of that, what's with those cabs that look really big and roomy on the outside, but the minute you climb in, your knees are up under your chin. An illusion of space I have yet to figure out.

But I digress. Those pedicab drivers are some of the toughest sons of a gun I have ever seen. What really astonishes me is how they remain so friendly, after hauling ungodly poundage through unfriendly New York traffic. And how so many of them look as though they would snap in half in a strong gust of wind. It cannot be easy work.

And now, the city wants to regulate where they can pedal. Up to now, pedicabs did a good business in Central Park. But now that they're actually making some money, the city wants to put up new rules that would require them to stay in the right lane of traffic only, not use the bike lanes, and not pickup any tourists (because, let's be frank, those are the folks who use this form of transport) where taxis have a chance of picking them up. And no ads on the backs or sides of the pedis while in the park during hours cabs are allowed there. Huh? I mean, the mayor himself has said pedis are a unique part of the fabric of this city.

Now, I know some of these guys can be a menace. I just saw a news article about some crazy pedicabby who got into a road rage fight with a cab driver. The guy pedaling started the whole thing, even threw a big trash can at the cab. And we know this, because the whole thing was caught on videotape.

Apparently plenty of people have had unpleasant, even dangerous experiences with the pedicabs. And dangerous behavior of course should be regulated. I would think responsible pedicabbies would not object to reasonable monitoring. How can they object? They're too exhausted and out of breath.