Short version of the story: I may fail at starting a pedicab company because city officials don’t like my DIY version, get nervous, and possibly break the law when you put them on film. Please keep this in mind when trying to get your DIY projects past any bureaucrats!

5-minute video version (visually boring for first minute):

The longer story:
There are 2 ways to legally drive a pedicab in Austin, Texas: rent one nightly from an existing shop or start your own pedicab company.

Should you want to start your own, there are 2 real barriers: insurance and obtaining a pedicab. For more detail, here’s a guide I’ve found very helpful.

Unless you’ve got a pot of gold to explore self-insurance options, there’s no way around writing a sizable check for the insurance side of things. However, I thought I might have some ideas about how to build a better (cheaper, safer, greener) pedicab.

With this in mind, I went to work and built a pedicab. Then, I made the mistake of trying to get my creation inspected.

After my third design and third failed inspection, it began to become clear to me that this wasn’t a matter of proving any specific technical point or placing my rear reflector in the correct configuration: the pedicab inspector didn’t like my idea of how to build, didn’t like me, and wasn’t about to allow my design on the road.

My favorite point of contention is the tires: the city has decided that I have to provide a weight rating for my rims, spokes, and tires. Never mind that:

  • There appears to be no such thing as a pedicab-specific tire
  • Most manufacturers don’t rate bike tires for weight
  • No pedicab company has previously been asked to provide this information
  • My wheels are identical and tires equivalent to those in use by 20+ pedicabs in operation

These points don’t matter, and I’m told that if I continue raising them all pedicabs will be grounded until they verify their tire’s weight capacity. My inspector friend stresses that he’ll be sure to inform other pedicabbers who is responsible for this (somehow meaning me). Looking at me as if I may be in need of hospitalization, I’m asked “why don’t you just buy a pedicab?”

Oh, and one other important detail: it’s been 25 days since I received my operating permit. Should I surpass 30 days, I lose my permit and have to start from scratch.

So, for visit #4 I’ve escalated to my inspector friend’s boss. Having researched my state’s eavesdropping laws, I’m accompanied to our meeting by my trusty companion and her digital camera. Because Texas is a one-party consent state, it’s legal for me to record a conversation that I take part in without informing whoever I’m talking to.

Unfortunately, my government friends don’t seem to realize this. When they figure out that they’re being recorded (not exactly hard, considering we had the camera sitting in plain view), they immediately end the meeting, fail my cab without inspecting it, and refuse to allow me into their office. My insistence on a DIY creation is clearly such a threat to safety that they should contemplate calling the cops.

So, this leaves me in a bit of a pickle. My spine tingles at the idea of riding something I’ve built as my job, but the city’s nostrils flare. I’ve got a few ideas for how to keep pushing this, and I’d appreciate any suggestions you have to add. I’ll keep you updated on any progress I make or absurdities that occur, and I’ll post the full specs and open-source the plans soon. Happy cycling, and be careful with those bureaucrats!