published Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Regulations kill a dream

How many regulations are necessary to dictate how a licensed, responsible adult should operate an oversized tricycle? If those regulations come from the nanny-state tyrants responsible for drafting the City of Chattanooga’s pedicab ordinance, the answer is 11 pages’ worth.

When longtime Chattanooga-area resident Christian “Thor” Thoreson and his partner Christina Holmes decided to launch Buzz Chattanooga Pedicabs in February 2011, the business seemed tailor-made for the downtown area.

Thoreson’s pedicabs, which are pedal-driven tricycles with a two-person passenger compartment attached behind the driver, fill an important need for downtown. By offering a cheap and convenient way for people to get around between hotels, tourist attractions, bars and restaurants, Buzz Chattanooga is a boon for tourist and a convenient addition for locals.

The pedicabs prevent drunk driving and free up precious parking spaces. They also cut down on auto emissions — a major plus for a city as hell-bent on glomming on every goofy green fad that comes down the pike as Chattanooga.

The service is inexpensive — it costs passengers only the amount they wish to tip their driver — and it provides well-paying jobs for Buzz Chattanooga drivers. Thoreson estimates his drivers make more than $20 an hour. Revenues from selling ads on the pedicab and a small cut of driver tips fund the business.  

The pedicabs seem like a win for everyone. They provide a needed service for tourists, help get people in local businesses, get drunk drivers off the road, are environmentally friendly and provide Chattanoogans with well-paying jobs.

But apparently, city officials don’t see it that way.

Otherwise, Thoreson wouldn’t have dealt with the mountain of red tape he faced in order to make Buzz Chattanooga a reality.  

• • •

Just to get Buzz Chattanooga off the ground, Thoreson had to abide by those 11 pages of pedicab-specific regulations. And that’s on top of the dozens and dozens of pages of rules pertaining to all for-hire vehicles in the city, including pedicabs.

The city ordinance limited the number of pedicab permits available, capping the number of pedicabs serving Chattanooga to just six. Each pedicab permit requires a $100 fee.

Those six pedicabs have to be outfitted with a horn, a rearview mirror, headlights, taillights and turn signal.

Pedicab drivers are required to go through an intensive licensing process by the city, including passing a test given through the Chattanooga Police Department Regulatory Bureau Transportation Inspector’s office, as well as being subjected to a drug screening and a background search.

City regulations don’t allow pedicabs to cruise for passengers — they must remain parked and wait for customers. Strangely, even though cars often come much closer, pedicabs must stay at least 10 feet away from horse-drawn carriages. The vehicles also can’t be operated in public parks.

But there is one regulation in the mountain of rules that pedicab owner and operators must follow that is more unfair and outlandish than any other.

Sec. 35-251(3) of the Chattanooga City Code states that a “pedicab driver shall not operate a pedal carriage or pedicab on any bridge or in any tunnel.”

That’s right, pedicabs can’t take passengers the 2,000 feet from downtown to North Shore. Pedicabs aren’t allowed on the Market Street bridge. They’re not even allowed on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge.

They can’t take visitors staying at the Delta Queen to the Chattanooga Aquarium. They can’t take downtown workers to have dinner at Good Dog or to share a drink at North Chatt Cat.

When Thoreson went to the Chattanooga City Council in May 2011 to try to get the ridiculous bridge ordinance amended to allow his pedicab drivers to use the pedestrian bridge, council members proved outrageously ignorant about the issue and unwilling to listen.

Larry Zehnder, administrator of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department, advised the city council that having a “speedy motor vehicle [on the pedestrian bridge] could be a hazard.” Since a pedicab is pedal driven, has no motor and can go only as fast as the driver’s legs can carry it, it’s hard to imagine just what in the world would lead Zehnder to make such an unbelievably silly, ill-informed and outright wrong statement.

Unfortunately, Councilman Jack Benson later parroted Zehnder’s goofy belief.

Councilman Peter Murphy expressed concern that the bridge’s “width is not sufficient” for Buzz Chattanooga’s 50-inch-wide pedicabs. Apparently, Murphy was unaware that the pedicabs are actually narrower than the utility vehicles the city maintenance workers frequently drive from one side of the bridge to the other.

As a result of the city council’s unwillingness to address the pedicab regulations reasonably and with any degree of intellectual honesty, the bridge restriction remains.

• • •

After dealing with the frustrating regulations placed on his business, the unwillingness of city leaders to allow him to serve customers on both sides of the river and difficulties in selling ads on the pedicabs, Thoreson decided yesterday to throw in the towel and close Buzz Chattanooga.

When asked what he’d tell another entrepreneur considering starting a business in Chattanooga, Thoreson replied, “Stay the hell away.”

Thoreson’s story is the hidden side of regulations that the city council and other bureaucrats rarely consider in their absurd exercises in trying to keep people safe and micromanage businesses. Too often, regulations stifle entrepreneurs’ ability to innovate, and prevent them from improving their businesses, serving more customers and, ultimately, making Chattanooga a better place.

If the Chattanooga City Council had simply removed the inane regulation preventing pedicabs from crossing the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, Buzz Chattanooga would likely still be in business. As a result of failing to trim unnecessary red tape, it appears the city council actually caused a business to close and cost several hard-working pedicab drivers their jobs.

Chattanooga’s businesses are weighed down by hundreds of pointless regulations. Rather than adding red tape and sending more Chattanoogans to the unemployment line, city leaders owe it to job providers to spend time looking for ways to reduce the burdens of excessive regulations on businesses.  

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Yeah, how dare the City care about the safety of the public roads. Surely no point to any of that.

Pfft. And you complain about the City Council's intellectual dishonesty.

Here's something you've apparently never considered...that slow vehicles can be a hazard.

You know it might be possible to have a reasonable discussion, but not with a wild-eyed libertarian anarchist like you. If Thoreson even came close to your attitude in dealing with the council, you shouldn't be surprised at the result.

At least, if you're aware of how people see your words. But you're probably as indifferent as women of the posters here. Rugged individualists like you don't let the views of others intrude upon your worldview.

BTW, I suspect if the City Council had decided differently, that you would be breathless in your exhortations against compromising public safety to accommodate another green boondoggle.

August 22, 2012 at 12:34 a.m.
nucanuck said...

When I moved to a city much more regulated than Chattanooga, I thought that it might be oppressive. What I have found is really the opposite. Once you adjust to both the regulations and their purposes, you begin to appreciate a well run city. I will agree that some regulations seem a bit stringent, but the city runs like a well oiled machine. How do you put a value on that.

August 22, 2012 at 12:53 a.m.
joneses said...

Here comes happy again promoting his liberal agenda of complete government intrusion. I really do think if the government shut down happy would just die. Happy is one of those liberals who if were on an escalator and it stopped working he would holler for help from the government versus walking up or down the escalator to get off. LOL!

August 22, 2012 at 5:54 a.m.
conservative said...

Questions that come to my mind are : Who had the expertise to devise all of these regulations? Were they just the whim of elected city council members or officials, or were outside sources paid to come up with these regulations and at what costs? I suspect there was a lot of wasted tax dollars involved in this debacle.

Seems to me that the high costs of liability insurance couldn't be recouped with only six pedicabs in operation.

However, I could see where the bridge restrictions make sense. I wouldn't put my life in jeopardy sitting in one of those things with the nuts I see driving around smoking dope, driving intoxicated, speeding, texting, talking on a cell phone, driving recklessly etc. I love to ride a bike but I don't trust people in vehicles behind me, so I wouldn't ride a bike downtown either.

I'm certain and I agree that many of the regulations were excessive and costly which is why they couldn't stay in business.

August 22, 2012 at 8:24 a.m.
Walden said...

Drew wrote: "...a major plus for a city as hell-bent on glomming on every goofy green fad that comes down the pike as Chattanooga."

Yep. Welcome to Chattanooga, the navel-gazing capitol of the South. I don't know if it is our environmentally decadent past (dirtiest city in America, etc.) or what, but this town is drunk on "green" this and "green" that, and all that stuff. Good or bad, it is true.

Few places I have ever lived spend more time obsessing over their image, etc. Not criticizing, just observing.

I will say, though, I love this town, and it is a far better place than it was in the early '80s when I was a teen.

August 22, 2012 at 9:09 a.m.
LibDem said...

Wait 'til you're stuck in traffic behind one of these pedicabs. Chattanoogans are not the most patient, polite drivers.

August 22, 2012 at 10:01 a.m.
aae1049 said...

What an awesome comment from Walden,

"Yep. Welcome to Chattanooga, the navel-gazing capitol of the South. I don't know if it is our environmentally decadent past (dirtiest city in America, etc.) or what, but this town is drunk on "green" this and "green" that, and all that stuff. Good or bad, it is true"

I can tell Walden has lived here for awhile.

August 22, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.

There goes joneses, spewing his misrepresentations and distortions, shortly to be followed by empty complaints about being attacked unjustly. Which will be salted by his own vitriol.

But no acknowledgment of that will occur.

conservative, now if only you could apply that reasoning to the Voter ID laws. Here's a hint, those came from ALEC. But actually there are legitimate clearing houses and think tanks that do create studies and reports on matters of public importance, like you know, what happens on the streets. This includes sample regulations as well.

Sometimes this is quite reasonable. Other times, not so much, like when there's an agenda disguised by claims to some manufactured problem.

Walden, indeed, for one thing, we have the Internet, and can reach other places more easily!

Too bad all the good restaurants have closed.

LibDem: Darn tootin' or sometimes they just try to use the old rubber horn.

August 22, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.

Voter ID laws are the bane of liberals and progressives everywhere. They help prevent voter fraud.

August 23, 2012 at 10:51 a.m.

True access to the ballot box is the bane of conservatives and reactionaries everywhere. They help the citizens reject such regressive and oppressive agendas and prevent them from engaging in election fraud.

BTW, what's Thad McCotter up to? And what's happening with David Rivera?

August 23, 2012 at 11:10 a.m.

HWNB said, "True access to the ballot box is the bane of conservatives and reactionaries everywhere."

Did the new black panthers tell you that? Did Holder whisper that sweet nothing in your ear?

August 23, 2012 at 12:06 p.m.

And before you start spouting more about there not being any voter fraud:

August 23, 2012 at 12:12 p.m.
Leaf said...

Some regulation is good, too much is bad, not enough is bad. Where is the line? Different for everyone. Welcome to the world, people. That's just the way it is. If you don't want to be inconvenienced by your fellow humans then move to North Dakota or some other god-forsaken place with nobody in it. Now quit your complaining and get back to work.

August 23, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.

Holder? Nope, I noticed that decades ago. It's back now, because you assume people have forgotten.

The amount of voter fraud is inconsequential. The effects of disenfranchisement? Admitted even by the proponents of these ID measures.

If they truly cared, they would have prevented that problem in the first place.

Instead they mostly whine about the expense involved. Apparently running elections on the cheap is more important than doing them right.

August 23, 2012 at 3:10 p.m.
Dylboz said...

How come nobody commenting here seems have read the article? The bridge in question is a PEDESTRIAN bridge. That means NO CARS. So, the concerns about dangerous drivers and slow pedicabs causing traffic congestion are irrelevant.

August 23, 2012 at 5:22 p.m.
Jake548 said...

"The amount of voter fraud is inconsequential. The effects of disenfranchisement? Admitted even by the proponents of these ID measures."

Voter fraud IS disenfranchisement. For every fraudulent vote, one legitimate voter who cast a ballot a different way has had his or her vote nullified - effectively disenfranchising them. So, no, voter fraud is NOT "inconsequential", it has the exact same consequences as disenfranchisement. It's just harder to pick a specific person who lost their vote.

August 24, 2012 at 12:48 p.m.

Dylboyz, both the Market Street and Walnut Street bridges were mentioned. However I didn't see any mention of why the cabs are denied the Walnut Street bridge, I could imagine a reason or two to hold Walnut Street to a different standard like the increased damage or inconvenience to pedestrians.

Jake548. No, such voter fraud isn't disenfranchisement. You can say it corrupts an election, but disenfranchisement has a specific meaning which does not apply. You don't have to misuse words, you can make your claim that it's negative without doing so.

Nonetheless, I consider the state's explicit denial of voting rights for inaccurate reasons to be more dangerous because it's compounding the error on the pretense of making something right.

Especially since the amount of voter fraud is inconsequential, the election outcomes it influences are few to non-existent. The same cannot be said for disenfranchisement. That's millions of people.

That will effect elections.

Besides, I'm willing to accommodate your desire. I just demand it be done properly. That means provision of ID in a proactive fashion.

August 24, 2012 at 1:41 p.m.
NedNetterville said...

I brought my pedicab to Chattanooga in 2008 from Winston-Salem, NC, where I rode it downtown five years, giving rides to all who asked, but mainly those without other means of getting around: the homeless, handicapped, etc. On the first day I rode here, I waved and said hello to a horse-carriage driver as I passed him by. My greeting was returned by the driver with a snarl. The following conversation took place:

Driver (belligerantly): "Got a license for that thing?" Me: (taken aback): "I don't need one." Driver: "You do now. Pedicab regulations took effect last week." Me: "I'm sure they don't apply to me. I don't charge anyone to ride with me." Driver: "It doesn't matter whether you charge or not. You gotta have a license. I ought to know. I'm on the committee that wrote the regulations, I wrote that one myself." Me: "Rest assured your regulations don't apply to me or my pedicab. See the sign on the side of my pedicab. It says 'Not for hire.' Driver (placing a cell phone to his ear): "We'll see about that. I'll find an officer to give you a ticket."

I immediately rode to the library to check regulations, and found them even more onerous than described in this editorial. They looked like they were written by that horse-and-carriage driver to keep any competition from pedicabs out of Chattanooga. Of course the regs didn't apply to me or my pedicab because no government can write regulations affecting my pedicab ministry. I wrote the mayor relating my exchange with the carriage driver, asking him to ensure the city did not interfere with me under the guise of regulating pedicabs. I copied the police chief and Transportation director. I received a reply from the mayor's office ensuring me that that the city would not interfere with my peaceful meanderings around Chattanooga and welcoming me.

I returned to Chattanooga several times without incident, but soon moved to Sequachie county. I thought about challenging the regulations for the sake of the city and any pedicab driver in the future who might want to go into the pedicab business here. Before I arrived, a nice young man did operated a pedicab here to earn tuition to Vanderbilt. That cannot happen under current regulations, which forcibly preclude any young person from buying a pedicab to make a living or earn their education.

To happywithnewbulbs: It is truly a pity that your bulb is so dim that you cannot see the harm caused by your lust to control the harmless, peaceful behavior of your neighbors by means of regulations, which are perforce enforced by force. ("And who is my neighbor?" the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.) Your lustful resort to force, dimbulb, has many negative consequences you probably never consider, or refuse to recognize, but for which you are nonetheless responsible. Shame on you. P.S. The main purpose of regulations is not safety but so bureaucrats can solicit bribes or charge fees.

September 4, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
NedNetterville said...

Leaf said, "If you don't want to be inconvenienced by your fellow humans then move to North Dakota or some other god-forsaken place with nobody in it. Now quit your complaining and get back to work.

"Hey Leaf, if you like having every detail of your life regulated by your rulers in government, move to the Soviet Union where folks don't even pretend to be free. Oops, sorry, I forgot. There is no more Soviet Union. It fell under the burden of its own socialist regulations. Maybe you should try one of those nations where Sharia law prevails. You'd like it there. As Wiki says,"Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting." I'm sure such laws wouldn't inconvenience the likes of you. However, watch out for the ones regulating your sexual intercourse, particularly if you have any peculiar peccadilloes.

September 4, 2012 at 2:18 p.m.
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