I am writing in support of the actions of our hard-working police and to correct misinformation that the recent fine of a pedicab operator was only for politely answering a passenger's questions about neighborhood sites. That is not true.
I was present at the September hearing in Livability Court at the request of the police to testify about the impact of pedicab operations south of Broad. I heard the testimony of the undercover police officer, as well as the operator, who clearly was touring around our neighborhood and not just answering questions from passengers he was licensed only to transport. The judge heard all the testimony and correctly imposed the fine because pedicabs are licensed only to provide transportation from Point A to B, not to tour around the historic district.
As last year's chair of the tourism committee for the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association (south of Broad), we asked the police department to enforce the ordinance prohibiting pedicabs from touring in our neighborhood.
We did this after observing repeated and obvious tours being giving in violation of the City's ordinance and after the Ansonborough and Harleston Village associations reported the same problem in their neighborhoods. We did this after many conversations with the pedicab companies by members of our committee, police and our councilman, urging compliance with the ordinance. The pedicab companies know the rules.
Unfortunately, repeated and obvious violations have continued. Our committee alone reported to the police 10 to 15 violations in the past year, in addition to reports sent by other residents. I estimate that the actual violations are at least 10 or 20 times that number. The police are unwilling to issue citations on the reports of residents and concluded that the undercover sting operation was necessary.
To illustrate the problem, in October 2013, I personally reported to the police two pedicabs riding in tandem going west on South Battery for almost a mile to the end of South Battery, where they turned back and went east for a mile on Murray Boulevard before turning north on East Bay Street for another mile and depositing their passengers above Broad. There they told me personally that they had picked up the passengers at the wharf above Broad, had given them a tour, and had then dropped them off above Broad.
For the entire mile down Murray Boulevard and East Bay, the two pedicabs did not pull over once. Up to eight cars were backed up behind them and for over 10 minutes were unable to pass the two pedicabs, which proceeded at a slow pace. Even if the letter and opinion writers complaining of the police operation do not live downtown, they should appreciate how irritating it is to be held up in traffic by a commercial biking operation, particularly one operating illegally.
Members of our board also have witnessed pedicabs traversing White Point Garden, making illegal turns, going the wrong direction on one-way streets and otherwise acting as if they are above the law. The impolite parties are the pedicab operators who violate the law in our neighborhoods.
The police chief has told our association in the past that he went out on a limb to have the pedicabs approved for transportation only, and I am sure that he is disappointed to have to spend police resources in securing compliance, just as I am sure that the police would rather not spend resources monitoring underage drinking, loud college parties, traffic violations and meter violations.
Downtown Charleston is an open, not gated, community. The homes and residential neighborhoods in the Historic District are preserved and maintained at great private expense and are the primary draw for tourists. For that reason, we have a tourism management ordinance to ensure that neighborhood streets do not become clogged with buses, carriages and pedicabs ferrying the millions of tourists visiting Charleston and our historic neighborhoods each year. The enforcement of this ordinance is essential to mitigate the daily frustrations faced by downtown residents, office workers, parents of school children and shop patrons.
The city has to maintain the delicate balance between the interests of residents in the peaceful enjoyment of their neighborhood and commercial tourism. As part of that balance, there have to be limits on touring operations in residential neighborhoods.
When pedicabs operate in violation of our laws, they upset that delicate balance and must face the legal consequences, just as all of us do when we violate the law.
Randy Pelzer is the former chairman of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association's committee on tourism.