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Pedicabs: Our most over-regulated business?

THERE I was at my laptop, ready to write on a subject I’d been meaning to get to for months, when I came across the City of Savannah’s proposed changes to Article-DD, better known as "The Pedicab Ordinance of 1994."

Dammit. Now I have to write about this. I shouldn’t be surprised at the City’s ham-fisted regulation and enforcement efforts anymore, but this. THIS. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Stupid things, in order of appearance (not stupidity):

Section 6-2543. Code of Conduct.

(b) All pedicab drivers are prohibited from using rude, aggressive, offensive language, or gestures towards passengers, fellow pedicab drivers and City of Savannah staff.

If this isn’t a regulatory stick of subjective nightmare, I don’t know what is.

Would we tolerate this sort of language in the alcohol ordinance in regards to servers and bartenders? No.

Bad behavior towards customers that does not rise to the level of a crime (say slander or assault) should be handled by the businesses themselves and their in-house policies, not city marshals.

I understand that pedicab drivers can have adversarial relationships with one another. This clause is just asking for a 24-hour YouTube war of drivers trying to provoke and get one another in trouble. The unintended consequences could be immense.

Finally, by specifically including themselves as one of the offendable parties, City of Savannah staff seem to be telling pedicab drivers that they can’t contradict them, or stick up for themselves, ever.

Can this even be legal? Sounds like an abridgement of speech to me.

Sec. 6-2544. Sleeping or laying in pedicabs prohibited.

While any pedicab is parked at a stand or is otherwise in service, the driver will remain awake and alert at all times. Sleeping, lounging in a reclining posture, resting of eyes, laying in the pedicab or any appearance of sleeping is prohibited.

Will the City of Savannah apply this standard to their own vehicles? Because I have seen many a city employee “lounging” in their vehicle.

Besides, seeing pedicab drivers lounging in and around their pedicabs is one of the iconic images of downtown Savannah, like the hyena cage at the zoo. Don’t sanitize the hyenas for us — we like them as they are.

Sec. 6-2546. Proper dress required

(Yes, it’s long, but just read it – the comedy is within)

While operating a pedicab for hire on the streets of the city, a pedicab driver shall be properly attired in accordance with the following standards:

(a) Slacks or capris are acceptable and should be clean, in good repair, free of holes, whether by design or by aging, free of fading, stains, soil and wrinkle free. Slacks/capris must be loose fitting, not form fitting to the body.

(b) Walking shorts are permitted. Shorts cannot be more than two (2) inches above the knee. The same guidelines apply to slacks or capris.

(c) Casual shirts with collars, golf shirts, sweaters, tee shirts, non-collared shirts and turtlenecks unique to each company are acceptable. The logo design of the shirt must be approved by the MPSD supervisor. The MPSD supervisor’s decision may be appealed as provided in section 6-2523.

(d) Dress boots, athletic shoes, loafers, flats, dress sandals, and leather deck shoes are acceptable and should be clean, in good repair, free of holes, whether by design or by aging, free of fading, stains, and soil.

(e) The following items are prohibited: miniskirts, cutoffs, sweatpants, stretch pants, bib overalls, stirrup pants, designer pants/shorts/jeans with holes, whether by design or by aging, faded out, spandex, other form fitting pants, tank tops, spaghetti strap shirts, tube tops, halter-tops, midriff tops, cartoon characters, phrases, pictures or any tops with bare shoulders, thong slippers, and flip-flops.

(f) Proper hygiene/grooming are required. Pedicab drivers should present a good personal and public appearance.

While our President appears to be colluding with Russia, our city officials seem to be colluding with the Taliban and the cast of Southern Charm.

Seriously, why does the City feel the need to establish a restrictive dress code specific to this industry? It boggles the mind. Again, leave it to the owners/managers of the businesses.

And on the shoes – free of fading, stains, and soil? To what degree? These people ride bikes for a living! Outdoors on city streets, not at Orange Theory! What do city officials think a pedicab driver’s shoe budget is? Or anyone’s? Sheesh!

I had to get more background info on all this, so I called Rusty Browne, owner of Savannah Pedicab. He said that it’s not just the newly proposed oversight that’s the problem, it’s also the day-to-day hassles from the City that he’s been dealing with for years.

He says one of the problems with the City’s nannies, and not just in regards to pedicabs, is that they like to fine you for not following the rules while ironically not following their own protocols.

For instance, pedicab citations are supposed to be given directly to drivers at the time of the infraction. However, city marshals get to know what drivers operate what pedicabs (identified by painted numerals), so they’ll often cut corners and just mail citations when they notice an infraction, without notifying the driver at the time of the infraction.

In one egregious case, this led to multiple citations being given to a recently deceased, three-tour veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

You see, his pedicab had been given to another driver after his unfortunate death. That new driver would sometimes park it illegally when he went into a convenience store.

However, the city marshal issuing the citations didn’t know this, because s/he was not following protocol – s/he was just mailing tickets to the address that s/he associated with the pedicab numeral.

When the City was notified of the situation by Mr. Browne, did the City apologize and offer to correct the situation, and to make sure that the marshal would follow protocol in the future? Of course not. Big Brother does not like to admit mistakes.

Instead, Rusty says the City asked for proof of his assertions in the form of a death certificate, or to be put in touch with the bereaved spouse of the deceased veteran. Classy.

Next I spoke to one of Rusty’s long-time drivers, Jeff. He told me this story:

In their zeal to enforce the letter of the law, the City at times manages to totally miss the whole “promotion of health, safety, and welfare” that underlies the rationale for the police powers of the city in the first place.

Currently, the “pedicab zone” is bounded “on the west by the west curbline of Martin Luther King Boulevard from River Street to Oglethorpe Avenue.”

The Historic District Holiday Inn is located on this stretch of MLK. It even has a passenger loading and unloading pull-out at its entry facing MLK. However, city officials have notified pedicab drivers that this pull-out area is beyond the west curbline, and thus they’ll be cited if they’re seen using it. Instead, pedicabs are supposed to stop in the street, or have customers cross MLK.

How is this nit-picking in the interest of “health, safety, and welfare”?

Despite this, Jeff says that he has respect for the city marshals out there doing their jobs. He’s only gotten one citation for something that he didn’t do, which he fought and had rescinded (he’s gotten plenty for things he did do — it’s unavoidable).

Jeff says his real problem is with their boss, who he claims has tried to have Jeff’s pedicab driver’s license pulled entirely, due to some words they had in his office.

It allegedly had to do with a pedicab driver for a competing company making a complaint about Jeff.

In case you’re wondering, yes: Jeff suspects that the proposed clause about “rude, aggressive, offensive language” towards City of Savannah staff was written specifically for him.

I can believe it. Jeff is a character. One might even say a surly son-of-a-bitch.

But should a law be written to prevent this?

I hope that I’m still on Jeff’s good side after he reads this column. Maybe, maybe not.

Perhaps in a week or two, Jeff will see me on the sidewalk as he is giving passengers a lift in his pedicab, and he will offer me a rude gesture or word. The passengers might laugh, and I might wave.

What I will not do is go to the City of Savannah and make a complaint, citing Section 6-2552, Citations for Violating Pedicab Ordinance, in regards to Section 6-2543, The Pedicab Code of Conduct (if it passes), with a notarized affidavit attesting to the rude gesture or word.

Because that would be stupid.