Bikes Fun & Games

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!

39 thoughts on “My DIY Pedicab Saga: DIY Discrimination?

  1. Sometimes it’s better to ask to be forgiven than for permission. That is a retarded display of local government.

  2. You need to bite the bullet and hire a lawyer. This is an obvious due process violation, but only a lawyer can do something about it. Generally, one or two “conferences” with the lawyer, and you will get specific things that you need to do or not do before they will issue the permit.

  3. I do not have any tips for you,as you are obviously more knowledgeable than me in this subject, so I just stopped by to say bravo! Keep it up, our country needs more people like you. This whole situation reinforces my belief that the system is not broken, it is the people in that system. You sir are a positive step in the right direction.

    Now that I think of it, if you do not feel like hiring a lawyer, though a good, *honest* ,that is very important trait, and knowledgeable lawyer would do wonders and be a wealth of wisdom, you could also try to find outside political powers who are sympathetic to your cause and apply pressure through them. :-S Just an idea.

  4. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. They’re just trying to do their jobs and watch out for public safety. I didn’t see them ask for anything outrageous, all I saw was you whining at everything they said.

    If you want to pull people around in that thing, then you need to bend over backwards to show the city that it’ll be safe. That’s how it should be.

  5. First, your cab looks way too DIY. It may be safe, but no licensing authority will pass a thing that looks that shaky. The bigger problem, I think, is one you haven’t thought about. Customers will not be willing to ride in it.
    If you can get a local TV station on your side ( the little guy being crushed by the establishment), that might take care of both your problems.

  6. I commend you on the project but the meeting was shut down because of the video camera ultimately. As much as you are against the one-party consent law, or “eavesdropping” laws because of your concern for privacy and such – so are they. Just because they happen to be government officials doesn’t mean they like having a camera in their face without their consent (they didn’t write the law).

    If you’re against a certain tactic then don’t use it against other people. I can’t guarantee how the meeting would have gone without the camera but, I’m sure, it would have ended better than having the police called.

    I can understand wanting to document the meeting and the unfairness of the whole ordeal but it was sorta pushing it.

    Just for future consideration. I hope things turn around and you can hit the streets on your pedicab soon.

  7. The inspector would be a complete and total fool to sign off on your designs if they were not stamped by an engineer. Get your designs professionally documented, put in front of a PE, and get the stamp. This will involve a good amount of work, solid modeling, stress analysis, fatigue testing, and so on. You aren’t special, (well, I think you are :)) so you need to conform to the same set of rigid standards that every other manufacturer has to, especially when people’s health, safety, and lives are at stake.

    -Bob

  8. This is a common situation for builders that build structures that are seeming outside of the building code but obvious just as strong and sturdy as conventional construction.

    It’s reasonable for the city to want an inspection and it is rare that inspectors are required to be engineers or experts in materials science.

    The standard response is to get a certification from an engineer with a PE that your design and construction meets the city requirements – I’ve done this with beams that I’ve engineered to support my house. The building inspector had not the charts that covered my particular configuration of materials so I had a PE look at it and stamp my drawing. Done and done.

  9. in my opinion, your cab is not safe and the city’s just doing their job.
    I own a pedicab company here in town, Roadkill. I am not your competition – I am one of your pedicabbing peers, and I am in the same boat as you when it comes to having the responsibility to make this safe for customers. As I posted on the comments section of your youtube video, there is an increasing awareness on the part of this city as to the safety standards of pedicabs as their numbers grow and they become a larger part of the transportation equation for urban areas. This is in large part to due the recent fatal accident in Seattle, which generated huge debate in this industry because of the questionable streetworthiness of the vehicle involved, most specifically , were it’s brakes good enough ( no, they weren’t, is the popular opinion of most informed about the industry ) Your vehicle doesn’t even HAVE brakes, does it? As this industry (pedicabbing) evolves, safety standards will be reevaluated with an eye towards erring on the side of safety, and that’s something that I personally agree with. A DIY project may be fine for you, but when you invite the public to ride in your contraption, on the roads, in traffic, for profit, it does indeed become of interest to regulating authorities.
    So while you may wish to inject this with a dramatic storyline of David Vs Goliath or the little man Vs the city, unfortunately for you that’s not the issue. The issue is safety. I’m not sure you could find an accredited engineer to “stamp” it. That means they stand behind it, in their professional opinion, it is safe, correct? Good luck with that.
    And nobody likes having a camera sprung on them. It implies that you are trying to record them doing something wrong. Might work if they were wrong about your cab…but they’re not…

  10. The part where the officials are really in the wrong is where they deny this man public services *that he is paying for*. They can’t shut him out of the office just because they don’t like him. He’s asking for specific services, wants a copy of his license, etc. It isn’t a McDonald’s.. they can’t refuse services to anyone just because they don’t feel like helping him.

  11. “they are public officials and thus work for him as a citizen of Austin,they should bend over for him.”

    Nonsense. A public employee’s job is not to let citizens get their way. If it were, the police’s job would be a lot of fun.

  12. I’m not a lawyer, but the bit you link to seems pretty clearly to only apply to oral or electronic communication, not video recording. Were you to have simply recorded the audio of the conversation, you would be covered under the one-party consent. I do not believe that is the case for video recording as well (unless it is stated as such in a separate section of the code).

  13. Hummm….

    You need to decide if you want to be an activist or an entrepreneur.

    Make a choice, and then get busy. Either one is good.

    “Activist/Entrepreneur” (i.e. doing both) is a choice only open to those entrepreneurs who don’t need to make money right away while they get busy with the activist part. For them the money comes later. Usually this type already starts with a ton of cash.

    You don’t sound like you are in that situation (you are not flush with money), so again the choice is… make some dollars or make some change. *wink*

    And for that tingly feeling of DIY, remember that BUILDING a business is just as much a DIY process as anything else. You can buy a pedicab or build one, you can buy a business or build one.

    There is a HUGE tingly feeling when you build your own business, create a product or service that people will voluntarily part with money to access, and have enough success to live on the proceeds.

    Wow, now that’s a tingle!

    Good luck

  14. Is the point of posting this here to stir up some kind of grassroots movement? I think the plans, or even just photos, of your vehicle should be available before anyone decides to jump on your human-powered bandwagon. The last few seconds of grainy video above is the first time I’ve seen this conveyance.

    And it’s pretty frightening. Pedicabs I’ve seen not only appear to have stronger rear wheels, but they are built with a welded frame that would appear to be much lighter than your cab. Also, I’m not seeing the cable that leads from your bike, to the rear brakes. ARE there brakes on that trailer? Do you seriously expect normal road-bike caliper brakes and a tiny road-bike contact patch to reliably stop the vehicle when loaded with passengers? There’s also the fact that this is a trailer mounted on the back of a normal bike. Actual pedicabs are a large tricycle. They have a more stable three-point stance, while your vehicle is susceptible to jackknifing.

    In any case, here’s one engineer who wouldn’t stamp this with approval. Maybe you’ve actually covered all of the above concerns, and in person the vehicle shows more thought for safety. I’d say to get the engineer inspection set up, but should have been after your first visit. Four times? You know what they say about trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results….

  15. I just think you need to calm down a bit, turn the camera off and talk like normal people, if i had you coming into my place of business acting like that i would also ask you to leave. They were doing you a service. And i can see why they keep blocking the designs cause your obnoxious.

  16. Hire an engineer. Come up with a professional product that is safe for everyone involved. Hire a lawyer. Figure out how to “sell” it to the the city so you don’t get shot down so easily. If you act like a professional, and yes, look like a professional, it’s more than likely that you’ll be treated professionally.

  17. Talk to a metro reporter at the American-Statesman. Maybe they’ll run your story and it will put pressure on the city to approve the design.

  18. If he talks to the media, and gets a visit from a reporter with a camera, where he can point out the construction of his pedicab, the reporter will leave after taking one look at it and deciding that thank god the city declines this thing.

    It isnt welded, it’s bolted together. It’s made out of the type of square tubing that street signs are supported by, with holes in the metal every inch or so. I guess this was a convenient method of building, just cut the tubing to approximate lengths and you have a convenient hole about every inch, to run your bolt through. It looks like an erector set project on steroids.

    It had numerous sharp edges all over it, which he then covered with tape as protection after failing one inspection. They failed the tape ( duh ) . So he came back with foam zip-tied all over it.

    It has no brakes.

    It is held to the bicycle with a single bolt.

    The city was right to deny him, so don’t encourage him with suggestions of telling his story to the media.

    I’m afraid Luke doesnt have much of a leg ( or pedicab ) to stand on.

  19. The video doesn’t help your case much, in truth. It makes you look needlessly belligerent. The frame doesn’t appear to be welded, but I can’t see much of it. If an engineer says it’s okay, then it’s okay – but from what I see, I’m not pleased.

    Also, is there a reason you can’t get DOT weight-rated wheels and put them on? Buy a pair of stub axles with bearings, they’re available in a bolt-on form. Designed by mechanical engineer and DOT certified. That solves any concerns they have.

    Their behaviour appears quite reasonable, and I can certainly understand them being unhappy with you video taping the affair. They return your money without hesitation, and do not in any way act provocational. They are just doing their job, trying to ensure that your vehicle is safe. This is in your best interest as well.

  20. You may not legally need to tell them you are videoing them but that does not mean they have to go along with it when they find out you are taping them. I’m afraid your machine barely looks good enough for home use so I’m not surprised they are not very keen. Unless you think they get a cut of sales it is clear they are just covering their themselves. Do yourself a favor and work with a frame builder to create your own design but to a professional level, the DIY is not the problem it is the amateur nature of the construction.

  21. Seriously if that thing passed inspection, I’d be at that office with a camera asking them WTF they were thinking!

    And while on the subject of cameras: that was some serious douche-baggery, legal or not. I’m not sure what the law is on that in Texas, but I do know that people there can carry guns. I think I’d back off.

  22. Luke…That looks like a 5th grade science project.

    Graham,RoadkillPedicab and MaceTech pretty much said the rest.

    I commend the city for their judgement. Not often I do THAT!

  23. From what Im seeing YOU didn’t do your job:

    No engineering specs or stamps – Thats not the govts job to do.

    fabrication is unprofessional to say the least. DIY doesn’t means its AS GOOD as something built and designed by professionals.

    Im not trying to dash anyones inspiration to make something better but your pedicab is only in the mock-up/ proof of concept stage. It needs more work, if only to refine and strengthen the fabrication. Welded tube, dude! And the pipe insulation held on with ties….:< Although the public officials acted kinda jerky they were doing thier job. They are there to serve us....not you.

  24. A serious dogpile is forming based on the few seconds of actual pedicab footage in the video. Can we have some more data, please, before we start passing such harsh judgment? As an engineer, I know that a good bolted joint is better than a bad weld, so we really can’t judge based on that crappy video. I suggest that Luke post more detailed pictures and description of his vehicle for the scrutiny of other helpful makers. Luke is surrounded by engineers and experienced makers on this blog and in Austin. And if the city has valid concerns, engineers can help him address them. If the city is just throwing up bureaucratic roadblocks, an engineer can help explain to the city why they should approve the vehicle.

  25. What a pile! The city did their job denying your excuses for a pedicab.

    If you were doing nothing wrong, why did you run when they called the police?

  26. Informed opinions on the Yahoo Pedicabber group have universally scoffed at this creation. All luke is going to accomplish is to make the city ban all pedicabs of a similar nature ( that are indeed safer than his ) without exhaustive engineering certifications….

    carry on, Luke…..

  27. remember one thing mr crusader. as your off running your selfish crusades you just may cost the livelihood of alot of people that depend on pedicabing to feed themselves.
    think about the large number of people you just may put out of work before the most lucrative time of the year.

    some of these people have families to support.
    in our current state of the economy this is no time to be looking for work.

    i just hope it is not to late

  28. Many posters are saying that your pedicab looks like crap or doesn’t look safe, and thus they side with the local officials.

    How it looks should have nothing to do with it.
    The whole point is whether or not it IS safe, not LOOKS safe.

    I think people are assuming a company that produces a product must go through safety tests of their own and thus must be safe. But that may not be true.

    And isn’t the point of the insurance to cover any problems… like it falls apart and someone is hurt?

  29. Bit late. Just came here from your follow-up post.

    You know, you’re a total dick-head on camera. You’re an arrogant whiner who refuses to accept the blame for a poorly designed trailer.

    It’s no wonder you’re having problems with the authorities. Trying to force people to do stuff on camera? What a jerk.

  30. I hope everyone reads my input! I may be saving a life! Looking at the design from the standpoint of an engineer and certified welder this model fails miserably. No engineer or welder would put his stamp of approval on it. The industry standard for bikes as well as pedicabs has always been reenforced steel tubing with MIG/TIG welds since the beginning of time. Never seen a bike constructed of Telespar perforated tubing. Nor a trailer. Reason? It is used for sign posts because it “breaks away” on impact!

    note these specifications: The reason is simple.

    The Telespar system was engineered specifically
    for sign-support use, then perfected with the help of traffic-control professionals.

    B R E A K AWAY
    A N C H O R
    A two-piece breakaway system is easily created by
    adding a 12 gauge outer sleeve of the next larger size tube to the original anchor base. This additional
    sleeve, approximately 18″ long, provides a double wall thickness to accomplish the breakaway function.

    SLIP BASE
    BREAKAWAY SYSTEM
    AASHTO standards for structural supports of highway signs require the “change of velocity standards for 1800 pound vehicles” be met. The Slip Base meets those requirements as put forth in the NCHRP-350 report as the post will break off.

    Today most vehicles weigh more than 1800 lbs! So if you get hit from any direction your pedicab will shatter and just blow apart and more than likely someone will be seriously injured, if not killed. There is not any vehicle made using this material and to do so is, well just dumb! All manufacturers of pedicabs follow the standard use of steel tubing with their units as well as the hitch. The only nuts and bolts found on these are for the wheels and hitches. It’s common sense that bolts loosen, and crack or just break on force. And Telespar? Well read the specs as listed above . . .if it was safe would the industry not be using it???

    your prototype itself is all wrong as far as design and balance as well as the safety aspect. Not to say it looks like a giant erector set! Expect to bottom out or flip. And just blow apart! This pedicab is an accident looking to happen, and it will over time. Best to use it at home or just park it and not risk injury to another!

    I suggest maybe you take a class in design, engineering and welding and buy a welder and the proper materials. You would be wise to scrap this project and just start over or hire someone who knows what their doing. I feel pretty strong that your insurance company is not aware of the materials you used as they would never cover a vehicle used for public transportation made with Telespar. It’s cheap because its only used by highway departments in the erection of sign posts! You said you doubled it??? One peice inside the other??? That only makes the breakaway that much quicker.

    It is my understanding that you have recently received your permit. I hope all the other pedicabbers read this and pass it on to their peers, friends, family and fares. I am sending a report in to the proper authorities whom I feel were badgered into giving you your license to kill.

  31. if you spent half as much energy learning some basic fabrication skills, as you spend blogging and bitching, you may have actually accomplished building a cab you could be proud of. Kids these days?! Think the world owes you something just fir showing up. Like the last place little leauge team that gets a trophy just because they let the other teams kick their asses all year. You try to compare your “cab” to all the other big names but other than the fact you call it a pedicab it’s nowhere near the same thing. Another thing, ALL pedicabs are DIY all of them are made by somebody. There’s no magical factory where a guy pushes a button and out pops a pedicab. There’s no big factory where computers and robots kick them out by the truck-load. They are all built by people that breathe air, same as you. The difference is they have the skills and equipment needed to do this. Those same men and women that build pedicabs do so for many reasons. And for many reasons, they don’t build cars planes or trains. Understand? Just because you WANT to build one dosen’t mean you should or, obviously could, build one.

    Put your energy and excitement into something your skills and abilities can sustain and support. I’d like to build an airplane but Im not an airplane builder. Would you fly with me?

  32. I am told the city inspector won’t sign off on your pedicabs. He knows they are dangerous and stands by his word. It takes somebody else to approve them. I wonder how that will play out?

  33. You can do it; just use your heart AND your head. Look into a brake system for the trailer. I think the jackknife concern is a valid one. Also, when considering if it is “safe,” what speeds with you hit with the trailer. There a big difference between equipment failure at 5mph (no concern) and 20 mph (real concern). I would also consider frame designs for auto utility trailers. I have seen many street-legal utility trailers sold in kits where the buyer bolts angle iron together. I think the hitch is the hardest part. Consider a lower attachment point for a lower center of gravity for the trailer load. You’ll figure it out — I’ve seen you figure out things far more difficult than this…

  34. Hey Luke

    Surprised you posted this in 2008 but still no comments. I’m interested in this as I’d like to do the same thing here in the UK, so I feel for you.

    did you get anywhere with this?

    I like the point point about tyre rating and the fact that they’ve only raised this with you and not the authorised cab companies. Makes me wonder what process was for them. Sadly i suspect this involves some form of corruption.

    Even so, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I wish you luck.

  35. HI YOUR VIDEO HAS BEEN THROWN OUT…..IS THERE ANYWHERE YOU HAVE A COPY?
    FACEBOOK NISHTO KLOPOT….IM IN ROMANIA AND TRYING TO FIND PLANS TO BUILD A BECAK…NOT EASY

  36. They aren’t allowed to fail it without a proper inspection. Also, if they are refusing to hold any proceedings on camera, that is definitely fishy. I would hire an investigator to take a look at them, or another option is to have a friend take it in for inspection. Bureaucrats are often bribed in favor of one party over another, so if a Company knows what you are doing, and doesn’t like it because it threatens their business, they will pay the inspectors off to not allow your cab to pass. Just a thought.

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Luke Iseman

Luke Iseman makes stuff, some of which works. He invites you to drive a bike for a living (dirtnailpedicab.com), stop killing your garden (growerbot.com), and live in an off-grid shipping container (boxouse.com).

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