AUSTIN (KXAN) - Pedicabs are an increasingly popular way to get around Downtown Austin. In fact, in the last year, the number of permitted pedicab drivers has almost doubled to more than 500. A KXAN hidden camera investigation shows not all of those drivers are following the law when it comes to how much they charge and how they get around.
"I'd taken my family to ACL, it was the last day," said Bryan Knox. "We stopped off here at Baby A's to have dinner just to let the crowds die down. When we left, my daughter expressed interest in taking a pedicab. She said she'd never done it before."
So Knox said his family of three flagged down a pedicab to take them from the restaurant on Barton Springs to their car, parked at City Hall.
"I asked him how much it would be he said it would be $30," said Knox. "We rode over there. He was great the whole way. I enjoyed the ride, my daughter enjoyed it and when we got there I handed him $40 for a tip and uh, he says , oh no- it s going to be $90- $30 dollars a person."
Knox said he was furious and argued with the driver, ultimately threatening to call the police before the man drove off.
"I feel like he was trying to take advantage of out of towners," said Knox, who is a longtime Austin resident. "It makes me mad because there's a lot of people out there who don't know any better and they're going to pay that $90 and next time maybe they're not going to come to Austin."
Austin pedicab drivers, or the company they work for, are required to file with the city transportation department how much they'll charge. It can be a fixed rate, a negotiated rate before the ride starts, or the driver only works for tips.
"We definitely don't want to see other visitors to Austin or other residents of Austin get in a situation where there's a big misunderstanding with a pedicab driver about what the rate is," said council member Kathie Tovo. "I think if we continue to see that there are issues with payment and misunderstandings, it will be time for the city to consider whether or not its appropriate for the city to have clearer regulations around pedicab fares."
During a hidden camera investigation, KXAN took six pedicab rides in Downtown Austin on a busy Friday evening. None of the drivers we encountered went back on the initial agreed upon price, but the prices were all over the map. One driver said he only worked for tips. Another driver charged $10/person because it was a "special event weekend" during Fun Fun Fun Fest. Typically, a sign on his pedicab reads the price is $5/person. Another driver charged $2 for each block.
Even the drivers admit there are problems when it comes to pricing.
"There's plenty of people out there that will price gouge you and stuff," said one driver.
But our investigation also found some drivers are breaking traffic laws by running stop signs and red lights and not staying in the designated lane of traffic.
We showed our video to APD Downtown Sergeant Steve Mares.
"I mean, its unacceptable," said Mares. "When they're taking on a passenger or a fare- you've got to keep in mind the safety of that fare. Sometimes it's difficult for us to see every violation out there but when they're egregious, we're going to, you know, take care of business. They'll be ticketed for it if we see them."
The city transportation code requires pedicab drivers to abide by the same traffic laws as people in vehicles or other cyclists. They are also required to carry liability insurance.
"What I've heard from the community is that they find pedicabs very convenient for travel short distances and you know its a very sustainable way of traveling by bike rather than in a motorized vehicle," said Tovo. "There are some clear advantages and we want the industry to continue, but to work in partnership with the people who rely on that service, but also the vehicles that are trying to navigate around them."
KXAN reached out to some of the largest pedicab companies in town. One owner, who did not want to be identified, said most drivers are not properly trained and the city should do more to regulate training and rate structures.
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