OPINION - Tourist-fleecing pedicabs are a menace to London

A pedicab in Westminster  (Westminster Council)
A pedicab in Westminster (Westminster Council)

You may not know what a pedicab is, but you would know one if you saw one. Think bright lights, feathery thrones and a push bike in front — they’re also known as rickshaws. You may think they’re harmless fun.

But for the businesses we represent in the West End, they’re a major issue and a real nuisance. There have been instances of unsuspecting passengers (often tourists) being charged hundreds of pounds for short journeys like from the West End to Waterloo Station.

In addition, most pedicabs ignore the Highway Code, block pavements, disturb residents and visitors with incessant music and have little or no safety specifications, including seatbelts.

Part of the problem is that the laws governing pedicabs are comparatively ancient. They haven’t been updated since 1869 because the rickshaws are treated legally as “stage carriages”. The Met and Westminster council have struggled to stop pedicab drivers from charging huge fares and driving dangerously because the vehicles are not regulated. Since November 2021, £17,375 worth of fines have been issued, but this has done little to deter them.

Happily, the council is now working with the Department for Transport and TfL to draw up new rules on pedicabs, scheduled to be part of an upcoming Transport Bill. We hope that all pedicab operators will now work with councils to address issues around safety and fares before that legislation comes in.

In the long term, we want to see a level playing field with other private hire vehicles to ensure the highest standards everywhere for transport in London.

At this stage of the post-pandemic recovery, we must encourage tourists to visit — which also means a safe and enjoyable time when they’re here.

Unregulated pedicabs have not always helped with this. They create nuisance for residents, congestion, and road safety risks. Local MP Nickie Aiken has done a lot of good work on pedicab issues and many operators have subsequently taken action to run fleets responsibly. Regrettably, others continue to be linked to unscrupulous behaviour, unwanted touting and excessive fares.

As far as I’m concerned, the council’s slogan for Christmas has it best: “Be careful what you get into”.

Ros Morgan is chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance