Enviro cabs bump into bylaw barrier

A pedal-powered taxi service is set to hit downtown Whitehorse streets this month if the city’s bylaw office comes on board.

A pedal-powered taxi service is set to hit downtown Whitehorse streets this month if the city’s bylaw office comes on board.

Marjie Klein and Carl Cowell have already spent $15,000 to buy six pedicabs that had been sitting unused for six years in a Whitehorse yard.

Twenty-seven-year-old Klein has taken advertising and dispatch duties onto her plate and 31-year-old Cowell will keep the fleet moving, handling mechanics and staff training.

“He’s going to show how we want to portray our business. It’s environmentally-friendly and we want everybody to realize that,” said Klein.

They’d like to pay $12 an hour to as many as 12 operators for six-hour shifts between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The business would operate Tuesday to Sunday over the summer.

The tricycle rickshaws, which have become popular club-circuit fixtures in other Canadian cities, won’t be taking on late-night traffic.

“We want to stay away from the bar scene,” said Klein.

In addition to $10 short-haul and $20 long-haul fares in the downtown core, Organic Cabs will ideally offer higher-rate guided tours along the waterfront to Robert Service campground, the fish ladder and shuttle service to the hotels in the downtown core.

But first, Klein and Cowell need the city to approve their routes.

“According to the bylaw, the city has to approve any routes that we want to take. We hope that (the bylaw officer) will approve us to ride around downtown,” said Klein.

The city’s Vehicle for Hire Bylaw requires taxi, horse-powered, dog-driven, and pedicab operations to apply for $25 permits and vehicle licences.

Specific routes must be proposed and attached as maps to the licence application for non-motorized vehicles.

Then, a bylaw officer must approve the route.

In addition, the bylaw states that “no more than two pedicabs shall be granted a licence for a route within the downtown area at any given time unless the designated officer determines that such additional licences will not cause any congestion in the specified area.”

The fine for failing to follow an approved route plan is $50 per incident.

No bylaw officers were available to comment, but a pedicab operator in tourist-heavy Skagway explained that similar regulations went in place there in an attempt to mitigate the frustrations of heavy traffic.

Though pedicabs are fairly maneuverable, Skagway’s council voted to restrict the amount of pedicab and horse-drawn traffic within the thick mix of truck, tour bus, pedestrian, and regular traffic that hits a high in cruise season.

Skagway didn’t restrict the routes for pedicabs, only numbers, which is fine with Adam Record and his herd of seven rickshaws.

“If we had any more, I think we would be bumping into each other and operators would be competing too much,” Record said by phone from the port city.

Luckily, Record’s fleet was grandfathered under the city’s ruling, which now gives his company, North Country Pedicabs, LLC, a local monopoly.

Whitehorse’s alternate strategy of route-restriction doesn’t sit well with the seasoned cyclist.

“If you ask my opinion, they (the pedicabs) should be allowed on any road. They’re another form of transportation, just like a regular bicycle,” said Record.

While Organic Cabs navigates civic regulations, it’s owners are continuing preparations for the coming season.

Cowell has taken the seven-speed vehicles out for test runs on windy days (“It was a chore.”) and Klein has been approaching local businesses to buy ad space on the white passenger awnings.

Rates vary with ad size, from $250 to $1,000 per cab, per month.

Cowell and Klein also recently repainted the tri-wheel people movers a bold, deep green — a move intended to further convey their personal environmental commitment.

“Everybody knows that emissions are skyrocketing, so we decided this would be a great opportunity to support the local environment and create a nice service for the tourists and locals,” said Cowell.

They have also been thinking of changing their $12-per-hour compensation plan, which was erroneously reported at $15 per hour on Yukon WorkinfoNET, to a per-shift vehicle-rental rate.

Operators would pay Organic Cabs a flat fee and keep the proceeds from their shift.

“A lot of people have been suggesting that and (they) might be more motivated to get out there and sell if they know the money is going into their pocket at the end of the day,” said Cowell.