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Near North Side, River North

Pedicab Crackdown Would Limit Rides At Navy Pier, But Drivers Say It Would Be ‘Devastating’ For Business

If approved, pedicabs would not be allowed to operate 6 p.m.-9 a.m. at the tourist hot spot.

A pedicab driver on the Lakeshore path about to exit at Navy Pier to drop off riders on July 22, 2022.
Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the boundaries for the proposed pedicab ban. The story has been updated to correctly reflect where pedicabs would be restricted.

DOWNTOWN — A Downtown alderman wants to crack down on pedicab services in an ordinance that would eliminate ride service after 6 p.m. at Navy Pier.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced the ordinance last week. If approved, the ban on pedicabs would be in effect 6 p.m.-9 a.m. in the area bounded by Ohio Street, Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and DuSable Lake Shore Drive, which encompasses the boundaries of Navy Pier.

Reilly did not respond to a request for comment, but he wrote on Twitter he introduced the ordinance on behalf of Navy Pier “because they are having a real problem with a glut of pedicabs taking over infrastructure primarily intended for pedestrians.”

“They’d prefer people use their trolleys, CTA or Divvy bikes. It’s not about prioritizing cars, it’s about deprioritizing pedicabs that clutter sidewalks and curb lanes,” Reilly tweeted.

Navy Pier officials said in a statement they have received complaints from customers about pedicabs “driving near them while they are walking to get on the pier” and on-site security has witnessed incidents involving pedicab drivers.

“Our security team has seen pedicabs striking one another, driving upon sidewalks and bumping into patrons, as well,” spokesperson Felicia Bolton said. “We believe this ordinance will help pedicabs, vehicles and pedestrians remain safe while traveling in that area.”

But pedicab drivers said they are being unfairly targeted in one of the most profitable areas for pedicab service in the city.

The ordinance “would be really devastating. It would certainly cut a huge chunk out of my pay,” said pedicab driver Michael Donatuti.

Most pedicab drivers wait in a line off the pier’s bike and pedestrian exit of the lakeshore path. They pick up riders headed to other Downtown hot spots off the path or drive customers to and from hotels.

Rides are especially in-demand during Wednesday and Saturday night fireworks, Donatuti said. Not being able to access the roads adjacent to the pier would make drivers backtrack through the lakeshore path, taking away the convenience of a quick ride.

“It would be tough,” Donatuti said.

Donatuti said the majority of his riders are families and older people who have trouble walking long distances to get to Navy Pier from other Downtown landmarks.

“Our relationship with Navy Pier is symbiotic in a way … we bring them tons of customers,” Donatuti said.

A video from a Navy Pier spokesperson shows pedicab drivers and pedestrians near the entrance to the lakeshore path, which pedicab drivers are allowed to use as an entrance and exit to the pier.

Another pedicab driver, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said drivers regularly give tours to visitors of the area targeted by the ordinance.

“It’s so bizarre to single out this form of transportation,” they said. “I have contracts with half those hotels, and I’m the first person the concierge wants to call. I’m generally booked all the way through 9 p.m. … That’s prime time for me.”

Each pedicab driver said they had never seen collisions with other drivers or pedestrians at or near Navy Pier.

“Why is he so obsessed with us?” another pedicab driver said.

Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
A pedicab driver exiting the lakeshore path to connect to Navy Pier on July 22, 2022.

This isn’t the first time Reilly has gone after stricter rules for pedicabs. In 2021, the alderman considered banning them altogether from the River North entertainment district 6 p.m.-9 a.m.

Pedicabs were already banned on Michigan Avenue and State Street.

At the time, pedicab drivers pooled money to briefly hire lobbyist Marc Poulos to negotiate on their behalf. Poulos was able to persuade Reilly to back down from the ban.

Instead, Reilly proposed a ban on pedicabs playing music on a radio or speaker 10 p.m.-8 a.m. Reilly said in a committee meeting in January that ordinance is meant to crack down on “curbside partying.”

“These pedicab drivers are being paid cash to spend hours at a time providing very loud amplified music at the choice of their client, while their clients are illegally drinking and consuming drugs on the right of way,” Reilly previously said.

But Poulos said the pedicabs causing the rifts for the industry are largely unlicensed.

“These guys and gals who do this are largely … free-spirited entrepreneurs … and I think [they] are largely looking to comply with whatever law or regulation is in the books,” Poulos said.

“Last summer, these guys were handing out flyers and telling people, ‘Hey, listen, we’re going to be banned from even operating, if this keeps up, we got to stop doing it.’ And they seemed really receptive.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A person drives a pedicab in Downtown Chicago.

But a recent tweet from Reilly seems to allude to being less likely to compromise this time around.

“I backed off banning pedicabs from River North after they promised to conduct themselves more professionally. Sadly, those promises are being broken on the regular now, so I’m less interested in seeking ‘compromise & voluntary compliance’ with that industry these days,” Reilly said on Twitter.

The industry won’t go down without a fight, drivers said.

Donatuti said he’s already been in contact with other drivers to organize against the ban. They hope they will get the chance to meet with Navy Pier before the ordinance advances through City Council.

The ordinance has been referred to the council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection. It’s unclear when it would be presented for a hearing.

“In any event, whether that’s going to prevail is a whole other question,” Poulos said.

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