AUSTIN (KXAN) — Soon, you could see more electric pedicabs out on the streets of Austin, and areas where pedicabs can operate could expand, too.

Austin’s Urban Transportation Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that the City Council approve changing the city code to:

  • Permit pedicab businesses to utilize electric pedal-assist motors
  • Permit group cycle businesses to utilize electric pedal-assist motors
  • Establish rules governing the safe handling and use of batteries and charging equipment
  • Evaluate pedicab operational boundaries for possible expansion

Testing out electric motors with a pilot program

The City of Austin started a pilot program in February 2018. It allowed about 70 drivers to install electric motors on their pedicabs.

Patricia Schaub, owner of Firefly Class Transport, said: “I noticed right away that it was much more enjoyable to ride. I felt like I could go places I couldn’t go before. I could go at a more consistent speed.”

Drivers say the motors aren’t about going faster.

Instead, having an e-assisted tricycle allows them to climb hills with more ease and work longer hours.

Before having a motor, Schaub said, “I used to do Ironman triathlons. It’s comparable to that feeling, working South by Southwest and Austin City Limits.”

According to the Austin Transportation Department, during the pilot program, the city didn’t receive any complaints, and there weren’t any collisions or injuries.

They also noticed drivers with e-pedicabs drove about 30 miles during one shift. Those without motors logged about 12 miles.

Expanding the pilot and making it permanent

Jacob Culberson, Mobility Services Division Manager at the Austin Transportation Department said, the recommended changes will “allow pedicabs to enhance any of their currently permitted pedicabs with electric assisted, pedal assisted motors” as long as drivers fill out an application and pass an inspection.

The city is also looking at where else, besides near downtown, pedicabs could operate.

David Knipp, owner of Movemint Bike cab, said for many years the boundaries remained as “Pleasant Valley east, 38 1/2 Street north, Oltorf south, MoPac west .”

According to Culberson, the city engineers will run an analysis and come up with a list of new areas where pedicabs will allowed to be.

“The width of the sidewalks. The width of the street. The area involved,” he said. “So we evaluate mostly for safety. That’s what we’re looking for, is that area safe?”

Even with electric scooters filling the streets nowadays, Knipp said, “We’ve always felt that there’s a unique place for us still. We cater a lot to tourism, convention center groups that come in and host events here, festivals like SXSW and ACL. UT games.”

“They serve different needs than some of our other options do,” said Josiah Stevenson who’s a board member of An Austin for Everyone or AURA. “I think more choices for people trying to get around our city — that’s the most important impact. I think and I hope that it’ll reduce the number of cars on the road at any given time.”

The Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on the recommendations on September 19. The potential changes also include creating safety standards.

Earlier this year, a massive fire at a storage facility damaged or destroyed up to 100 pedicabs – about 1/5 of the total number of pedicabs in Austin.

A fire investigator said the fire was started by an electrical short in a charger, power strip or battery.

The Austin Transportation Department said it worked with the Austin Fire Department to enhance fire prevention standards.