Ready for rolling rickshaws?

It's completely a coincidence in terms of timing, but today's news of a surprise, late-night SEPTA strike was accompanied in our pages by word that Philadelphia may soon be getting a serious fleet of Pedicabs, which are already a fixture in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. If you were one of the many people trying to shoehorn yourself onto a Regional Rail train today - or if you weren't even that lucky - you may have wished you could jump on the back of one of these oversized trikes and be whisked away.

OK, maybe only 1.3% of you were thinking along those lines. But there are other reasons to take a good look at the phenomenon also known as "cycle rickshaws" besides save-the-planet rationales.

Among others, two brothers tell of being forced into exile by L&I...

The lack of pedicab regulation in the city had been a problem for local companies and for operators in other cities that wanted to set up shop here.

Ben and Tom Dambman co-own Chariots of Philly, a pedicab company that operated in Manayunk from 2003 until 2005.

When the brothers tried to expand into other parts of Philadelphia, the Department of Licenses and Inspections ordered them to cease operations until pedicab regulation was in place.

For the last three summers, they operated their business in Avalon, N.J.

"We want to work exclusively in Philadelphia - this is our home, and this is where we want to live and work," said Tom Dambman.

Seems like a good idea to let them work at home. But could pedicabs make a difference in city traffic? Ecologically we'd like to say yes. But how would traffic change if we started to see more than one or two pedicabs?

Despite their common eco-friendly underpinnings, pedicabs would seem unlikely to challenge the habits of public-transportation riders, what with their relatively high price. The most obvious industry that might logically fear the rise of pedicabs is that of carriage horses. The colorful, sometimes inaccurate Colonial tour guides compete as "novelty" transportation, have certain liabilities that pedicabs don't, and offer against that a sense of history - an Old City tradition dating back a full 33 years.

But for now, anyway, the costumes and clackety-clop are the draw right around Independence Hall, and if New York is any model, pedicabs won't suddenly knock that out. Outside of Manayunk, one could imagine pedicabs competing with taxicabs in and around that whole Penn's Landing / Society Hill / Independence Mall area, or perhaps University City, where quickly and safely navigating among often unpredictable crowds on both walkways and streets is called for - but then again, cities sometimes ban pedicabs in their most congested areas. A case could also be made for pedicabs concentrating in the parkway / Art Museum area. Hey, if it's good enough for the Segways...

At any rate, the regulation, once in practice, will tell the tale. How will licensed, city-certified pedicabs be identified? Will pedicabs be restricted to bike lanes on roads that have them? What non-car areas would they be permitted to serve? What kind of safety and/or maintenance rules will be in place to prevent the occasional fatal accident?

Council should look at these questions carefully, but now is the time to start looking and answering questions. Let's hope sometime soon the kinks get worked out and Philadelphia pedicabs can pedal us toward "Greenest City in America."

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