I am posting today to comment on the recently passed Ordinance governing the operation and permitting process for Rickshaws in Charleston, SC. The Ordinance is located at Chapter 19, Article XVI, Section 461 of the Code of the City of Charleston. For starters, Section 19-461 (a)(2) states the following finding of fact, "The continued proliferation of rickshaws in the Peninsula area tends to create a carnival or theme-park atmosphere which is destructive of the historic and traditional ambiance of the Peninsula area, which is substantially made up of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century structures." Section (a)(3) continues, in pertinent part, "Rickshaws are by their design and nature, slow-moving, and pose a potential danger for those using the vehicles and the streets." Furthermore, Section (a)(3) reads, "As a result of the token pilot program (an extra night-time permit program), City Council believes that there is an increasing demand for the use of rickshaws by residents and visitors in the district and that a limited increase in the number of rickshaws permitted in the district is in the public's best interest."
So, if I'm reading this Ordinance correctly, the City is saying 'Rickshaws ruin our city streets by making them look cheap and like an unregulated carnival." Additionally, 'Rickshaws make our streets unsafe because they are slow-moving and the like.' Then, in the same breath, the City says 'We are going to increase the number of Rickshaws on the streets because it is in the public interest to do so." Am I the only one that finds this contradictory? If you took part in governing a City, would you allow more of something you find detrimental? I don't think so.
Personally, I am biased. I rode a rickshaw for Pedicab (one of the Rickshaw companies) for the better part of a spring and summer while attending school in this great City. Thus, I find the theme park/ carnival comments insulting. However, the City is entitled to their opinion. I just don't understand why you would want more of something you see as detrimental if you really think it's all that bad. Which brings us to the real point - MONEY. You see, the main purpose of this Ordinance is to create more revenue for the City. What else would it be, right?
A little background quickly. Prior to this Ordinance, the permits for each bike allowed on the street, called tokens, were awarded on a quarterly basis through a lottery. The fee for each token was the same. This resulted in an uneven distribution of tokens because the City chose how the tokens would be distributed. So, the enterprising owners of the Rickshaw companies would get together and split them up evenly after the City's distribution. Not bad for a sense of community on the part of the owners if you ask me. Hold on though.
Now, the City has decided to do-away with the lottery system and make the tokens available under a competitive bidding process. Section 19-467 of the new Ordinance specifies that there will only be 15 General Operating Tokens and 15 Night Time Tokens, which will be competitively bid on by any company who meets the requirements to bid. The tokens can last for up to 5 years and the general and night-time tokens will be bid on separately. The highest bidder gets the first token, the next highest bidder gets the next token, and so on and so forth. The only restriction is that no one company can acquire more than 49% of the General tokens and 49% of the Night Time tokens. But, that means that one company could own half of all the tokens available for the next five years as long as they operate safely enough for the tokens to be renewed and they pay the 15% increase in the fee each year.
Here is my beef with this. The City knows how much they need to receive monetarily for each token to cover the expenses associated with Rickshaw operation, which I presume is why the fee was flat for each token prior to this Ordinance's enactment. However, the City created an Ordinance which attempts to extract more money for each token through the bidding process and guarantees the City an increase on that fee of 15% per year. So, its clear to me that this is about money. Not about carnivals, theme parks, or traffic congestion. I believe somebody needs to speak up on behalf of these companies and their employees and I see no reason why it shouldn't be me. Especially because I was once a rider myself.
So, what do you think? Is this fair? Should the City repeal the Ordinance? Should they distribute the tokens evenly with a set fee? My opinion is that they should charge each company the same for each token and split them as evenly as possible. Fair is fair, right? Didn't we all learn that in Kindergarten? Well, the Ordinance specifically explains that it is designed to combat the even distribution that was occurring after the fact. So, to answer my own question, "I guess we didn't all learn that fair is fair and to share and share alike prior to entering grade school." That's no fun.
Adam W. Howell, Esquire