City moves to increase pedicab licences

Andrew Capeau, president of Victoria Pedicab Company, sits in one of his pedicabs at Ogden Point. Capeau says the suggested increase in pedicab licences is too high.  - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Andrew Capeau, president of Victoria Pedicab Company, sits in one of his pedicabs at Ogden Point. Capeau says the suggested increase in pedicab licences is too high.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

Last summer, several pedicab operators were left in the lurch when a longtime pedicab company went out of business at the tail end of the high season.

Kabuki Kabs Ltd. and its sister company Pacific Pedicabs Ltd. together held 20 of the 28 pedicab licences granted by the City of Victoria.

Nobody knows whether these licences will be put to use in the upcoming tourist season. City council, however, took steps to ensure operator demand won’t outstrip the supply of available licences again.

At a governance and priorities committee meeting, council voted to raise the number of licences from 28 to 75.

Coun. Lisa Helps “strongly urged” her colleagues to approve the move, arguing it encourages small-scale entrepreneurism.

Another option considered was to remove the cap altogether.

“I think quotas are a barrier to entrepreneurship and economic activity,” said Coun. Ben Isitt. “By having our licensing regime strong enough, and putting onerous enough requirements on operators, I think it will rein in the more harmful forms of competition.”

The James Bay Neighbourhood Association, whose residents suffer noise and pollution from tour bus companies, also requested the city remove the upper limit on licences for pedicabs, a quieter, greener mode of transportation. Tour buses have no similar limit on the number of licences issued.

The possibility of 75 operators on the road, however, leaves Andrew Capeau fearful.

The president of Victoria Pedicab Company holds eight licences, and leases his cabs to operators on a week-to-week basis.

“I’ve always thought that what keeps the quality of pedicabs here in Victoria at such a good level is the fact that we limit the number of cabs,” Capeau said.

“This would be so bad for this industry,” he added. Improper insurance, overloaded cabs, and undercutting set rates are among the problems that can creep up when operators get desperate for business, he said. An operator’s gross earnings could be decreased by 50 per cent, he added.

Longtime pedicab operator, Jerry Vizner agrees. Two weeks from his 18th anniversary on the job, Vizner says he’s the first one out in the early spring and the last one to retire for the winter.

He questions the need for more licences.

“If there’s that much business out there, it’s surprising that two companies would go out of business,” he said. More licences will lure more transient “characters” into the business, he predicted. The result would put a strain on bylaw officers’ time.

With his competition in limbo, Capeau currently has a monopoly in Victoria.

“It’s been a lousy situation for everybody. I’m getting pressure from all of these guys … (who were) short of bikes. Some of the people had paid in advance to lease their bike for the entire year … I was trying to accommodate everybody.”

Capeau welcomes competition, but figures 15 licences would meet the demand in today’s market.

“In 2004/2005, you could run 28 pedicabs out there on a Friday or Saturday because there was so much business to be had, but lately, it’s been really dependent on the cruise ships,” he said.

Rob Woodland, Victoria’s director of legislative services, estimates the demand to be higher.

“We know there’s demand for more than 28,” he said, adding the upper limit is likely less than 50.

Before council adopts any changes to the bylaws regulating pedicabs, there will be “lots of engagement with stakeholders,” he advised.



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