The city is trying shut down the pedicab industry by any means necessary, be that through an outright ban, strict regulations, or indiscriminate ticketing, according to a new lawsuit filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court. This comes just six weeks after the mayor's controversial proposal, which would restrict carriage horse operation to Central Park and ban pedicabs below 86th street in the park, fell apart—but the lawyer on this case says that it was in the works long before the mayor even made his proposal.
"We were working on papers for the suit prior to the mayor’s proposal, but held back to see whether the proposal would pass," attorney T. Austin Brown told Gothamist. "Since it did not, we decided to go ahead."
When the details of the failed proposal came to light, pedicab drivers accused the city of creating a monopoly in the park for carriage horses, saying that eliminating pedicabs below 86th street would effectively rid them of any business. Now, they say the city's employing more subtle tactics to try to shut them down.
This suit, filed by a former pedicab driver and a pedicab company, accuses Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and a number of other city officials of implementing and enforcing policies that lead to pedicab drivers being unconstitutionally stopped, searched, and ticketed: it alleges that "without the reasonable articulable suspicion required under the Fourth Amendment, [officers]...have been, and are engaged in, rampant stops and ticketing of individual pedicab drivers and issuing tickets to pedicab businesses...This method of stopping drivers is gratuitous, individually discriminatory, and ripe for abuse."
Under the protections of the Fourth Amendment, someone can only be stopped if an officer has reasonable suspicion that he or she is engaged in criminal activity, and can only be detained if the officer has probable cause. But officers with the Department of Consumer Affairs, Parks Enforcement, and the NYPD have been stopping pedicab drivers without reasonable suspicion and detaining them for as much as an hour each while looking for something to charge them with, this suit alleges.
According to Brown, when officers ultimately would issue tickets, they'd be for "nothing dangerous, small things like whether they're issuing receipts to passengers." In some cases, the plaintiffs say, officers would order passengers to get out of the cab and would then immediately ticket the drivers for unlawfully discharging passengers.
In one instance, the suit details, DCA inspector Alexander Gershkovich stopped pedicab driver Bourama Camera, the former driver who's filing this suit, and later told an administrative law judge that his supervisor had instructed him to "stop all pedicabs." Camera, who was a pedicab driver for eight years, says that he's been stopped and ticketed more times than he can recall, and finally quit driving pedicabs because it no longer made financial sense when the better part of his day could be taken up by unlawful stops and searches.
"The City has been unable to ban pedicabs because the political will isn’t there, so it is trying to use other means to marginalize the business, while exploiting the effort to ease other problems in its budget," Brown said.
A spokesperson for the city's Law Department said that "we will evaluate the merit of each of the claims in the lawsuit once we are served."