Rickshaw driver: City foils business

Police: All commercial passenger vehicles need the same permit

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2005

Doug Eberhart said he just wants to ride his bike - a bicycle built for passengers.

"I want to pick up passengers so I can make money with it," the 35-year-old man who lives in a tent near Costco in the Lemon Creek area said last week.

But Eberhart said that unless he pays the city $1,725, he can't even give people rides for free in what he calls his rickshaw.

"You mean panhandling?" Juneau Police Capt. Tom Porter asked of Eberhart's suggestion he give people rides for free.

Porter said working on tips or donations would be a way for Eberhart to circumvent rules that other owners of for-hire vehicles and businesses have to follow.

"I've accepted not a thing from anybody," Eberhart said.

The city isn't picking on Eberhart or discriminating against him because of his station in life, Porter said.

A city ordinance includes conveyances "propelled solely by human or animal power" under its definition of "commercial passenger vehicles."

According to the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, human-powered rickshaws, with people on foot leading two-wheel carts, were invented by an American missionary in Japan in 1869. Throughout most of the world now, only their cycle descendants, also called pedicabs, remain.

Maria Gladziszewski, special projects officer for the city, said the pedicab concept has come up in Juneau before. Such a business was operating in the 1990s. The ordinances rewritten about a year-and-a-half ago anticipated their possibility, just as they would cover horse-drawn carriages.

The biggest fee Eberhart faces under the city code is the $1,500 he would have to pay to "engage in business" with his human-powered vehicle, Porter said.

"To me it seems unnecessarily high for a really tiny business," Eberhart said.

He was staying at the Glory Hole, the homeless shelter downtown, when he got the idea of making money through a rickshaw business. Someone there suggested that running a pedal-powered taxi would require a business license.

"I thought it would be a way to raise tips," he said.

After authorities told him he can't charge people, Eberhart said he wouldn't take tips.

Shortly before he was told by a community service officer downtown that he had to take the "free rides" sign off the back of his rickshaw, he pedaled a couple from a cruise ship up Main Street to the Governor's Mansion, around the Capitol area and down Franklin Street to the Mount Roberts Tramway.

Uphill, downhill - he's strong enough that it doesn't matter, he said.

"We weaved through some of the back streets," Eberhart said.

His passengers, an older couple from Vancouver, didn't tip him because he told them he couldn't accept money.

They were happy with the ride, though, he said. They were of Asian descent and familiar with the concept of rickshaws.

Eberhart said there are businesses downtown that would pay to advertise on his rickshaw if he carried people for free, but he can't even do that. He has been told he can't even ride around with friends sitting in the back without that permit.

Porter said Eberhart has spoken to him twice about his rickshaw. Police aren't bothered if he is riding friends around, Porter said.

"He needs to understand he can't do it for monetary compensation," Porter said.

"We're not trying to discourage this gentleman from starting a business," Porter added. It's a matter of enforcing city law. Other businesses have paid for proper permits and licenses, he said.

Eberhart said operating a rickshaw around Juneau is something he is capable of doing even though he has limited work experience. He said a social anxiety disorder makes it hard to work for a boss.

And the city would be better off if he could operate his little rickshaw business, he said.

"This is another thing tourists can do," Eberhart said. "This is good for tourism."

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