Nina In New York: Pedicabs Are For Lunatics

A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

Last week, I watched a woman nearly get run over by a pedicab. She was crossing the street at a crosswalk with the walk sign, and he came tearing around the corner to make a right turn. He screamed at her to get out of the way and nearly took off a few toes as he flew past. There was much tsking and head shaking in his wake.

“Psycho,” I mumbled.

A woman nearby turned to me wide-eyed. “They’re all psychotic!” she said.

This is mostly not an exaggeration, from my observation. And it makes total sense: pedicab driving is the perfect marriage of the recklessness of taxi driving and the insouciant, anti-establishment attitude of professional urban cyclists. Which all amounts to a driver, ferrying human beings in a half-covered bench on wheels, with an underdeveloped sense of vulnerability and fear and an overdeveloped feeling of being above the rules. The rules, in this case, being traffic laws.

I see these guys (literally all guys, come to think of it), weaving in and out of Midtown traffic with total impunity, towing a couple of oblivious tourists gazing starry-eyed around them as though they are on a ride at Epcot and not in a metal shell on the back of an erratic bicycle surrounded by actual cars. And that’s the other thing! While the pedicab drivers are enough to give me a heart attack, they’re not exactly they only maniacs on the road. They’re up against equally if not more insane cab drivers, who add to this battle a serious rage problem and a high rate of vehicular assault. Not to mention all the SUVs driven by clueless, suburban visitors or overly aggressive chauffeurs speeding to get their demanding charges to make tee time. And yet, in the accident reports I found online involving pedicabs, the fault invariably lies with the guy on the bike. There was a call in 2009 for the NYPD to crack down on dangerous pedicab driving, but I’ve got a feeling that didn’t go very far. I’m not sure how unmanageable my desperation would need to be before I’d take one of the drivers’ many solicitations to hop on.

Actually, I do know. Because I rode in one once. I was with a friend one summer night last year. We’d gone out for a coworker happy hour and had too much wine and zero food. Our bladders were full to bursting, our stomachs were dangerously empty, and there wasn’t a taxi in sight. And I still wouldn’t have accepted the pedicab ride had she not made the decision for me. And even in my pathetic state, I was completely terrified and spent the entire ride attempting to gather my wits enough to backseat drive and say things like “oy!” and “eek!” and “look out!” It was productive.

But never again. I take my life in my hands quite often enough living here, thank you kindly. Just ask the local evening news. Everything in our lives poses imminent danger. Like my dog, my air conditioner, my elevator, my neighbor, certain kinds of paint, the subway, my corner deli, sushi, el Niño, my shoes, unfiltered tap water, non-organic fruit, going to the gym, going to the hospital, and vampires.

You can’t underestimate the vampires.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina Archives:

Heel To The Chief

Clickety Click Click I’m Never Leaving My Apartment Again

Rumble On The Rails

On Verbalizing

+1 Is Now + Me

  • mary dzioba

    My husband, Peter, was killed in a pedicab accident while we were on vacation in Seattle, WA three years ago. Aside from not being regulated for traffic safety, pedicabs are usually purchased on the internet and do not meet manufacturing safety standards (the pedicab we were on did not have breaks). These are dangerous vehicles and should not be on city streets.

  • Stan O'Connor

    SM, Thanks for asking a question this time, instead of stating that the drivers are “unregulated, untested, unlicensed” as you said a couple of days ago.
    In answer, they’re licensed by the DCA. But the DCA, as GreggZed said, doesn’t require a regional driver license the way the TLC does. And no, there’s no test. I’m a licensed sightseeing guide, and we’re tested even though we never risk anyone’s lives. Pedicab drivers are not tested but should be.
    Communicate with your councilmember about this; it’s the only way to change it.

  • Marillion J.

    We all know that NYC have too many pedicabs, is not the foreign driver to blame, as long they pay their taxes, have a proper trainning to do the job, and respect the traffic lights, is fine.
    The city have have to review the pedicab law and decide how to cut the number, and I think, the city of New Orleans gives a good example of that, NO Pedicab Business should be on hands of temporary F-1 or J-1 visa-visitor.
    when actually they need to be Be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States.
    In NYC more than 50% of the pedicabs business are own by foreing student and temporary visitor…. How can this happened.!
    This is reason why is not easy to control or to have accountability of who is who, and who is responsible or will be responsible, because most of the owners live in Turkey, Russia or is a Tajikistan student.

  • A. Bierce

    They should not be regulated. They should be outlawed and they will be when a passenger ends up squashed under a bus. They do not belong in traffic. They are not bicycles. There is no need for them whatsoever. There would be no measurable economic loss to the city if they were outlawed. They do nothing but slow down safer forms of transportation. They make NYC look like a third-world dump. Most of the pedicab operators (“Pediphiles”) are attention-seeking, preening twenty-somethings from abroad, most likey here illegally, who think they are actually providing a valuable service but will move on when they realize they will never be able to save enough for their gender re-assignment surgery.

  • Magda

    please lets do something about this crazy situation with pedicabs and YELLOW taxis, please take those licence from those money hungry irresponsable people!

  • GreggZed

    No test whatsoever. No oversight from the city agency (DCA) charged with regulating the industry. The threat of a lawsuit from one of the owners of an illegally large fleet moved the NYC Dept of Consumer Affairs to shift its initial requirement of a U.S. state DMV license to an “anywhere in the world” motor vehicle driver’s license threshold. This particular owner and others have business models completely dependent on indentured servants, i.e., foreign students, who pay these owners for the privilege of renting their pedicabs for the entire summer somehow. Pity the city for allowing this atrocity in our streets – quad-state DMV license requirement for pedicab practitioners (not to mention training courses) NOW! Call your councilmember today and demand safer streets via tough licensing standards for pedicab practitioners.

    • SM

      New Yorkers would be shocked to learn that pedicab drivers are speeding around city streets unregulated, untested, unlicensed. This information should be publicized and pressure put on the city.

      • GreggZed

        Nooo. The pedicabs are tested, licensed, and “regulated” annually, if not regularly. Unfortunately, a couple of loopholes in the regulations today allow illegal activities to continue unabated, though the city could do a bit of oversight today and eliminate the worst service providers leveraging current law. Contact your councilmember today and demand loopholes for illegal activity in the pedicab industry be closed immediately!

        By the way, the info was just “publicized” on CBS, not to mention the NY Post. Pressure on councilmembers by voters is the next step.

        Well-executed ecotaxi services is the most salutary passenger transport available in the crowded Manhattan marketplace for movement. It’d be great for the city to lend a helping hand here, though we manage in spite of it.

  • linda

    HAZARD on pedals

  • Professional Urban Cyclist

    The same article could be written about the pedestrians in NYC who don’t respect the do not walk signals. I cycle to work and they constantly walk in front of me while I have the right of way. Pedicab drivers are actually more courteous than most of the people on foot around here.

    • KPMc

      You should get off the bike, walk a little and see what your fellow cyclists are like.

      How often do you see a cyclist waiting patiently at a red light? Almost never!

      Turn signals? non-existant.

      Maybe you are the one courteous biker amongst a million but denying that most cyclists are anti-establishment, anarchists doesn’t do a thing to address the problem.

  • SM

    Very very funny column. I have seen those pedicab maniacs drive recklessly and arrogantly. They should be tightly regulated by the city, because they’re a hazard.

    • Stan O'Connor

      I drove a pedicab for 8 years in NYC. When I started there were 75; now there are 850, mostly young foreign students who are only licensed to drive in their home countries, not here. The NYC Pedicab Owner Assn ( is pushing for a quad-state license that will limit both the number of pedicabs AND the reckless driving they exhibit. Currently if a foreign driver is ticketed here, the home country never provides the NYC DOT with any information, and the guy keeps his license. That encourages bad driving.
      Next time anyone encounters a bad pedicab driver, snap a photo of the large ID that’s posted in front of where passenger feet go. And call 311.

      • SM

        Outrageous that they are not even licensed to drive in this country! Do they get any kind of license from NY, and do they have to take a test for it?

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