A three-wheeled bicycle taxi is one step closer to hitting the streets of Asheville following a 4-3 vote from Asheville City Council Feb. 8.
During the meeting, Council gave preliminary approval to a franchise agreement requested by Blue Ridge Rickshaw to run a pedicab service in the city. (State law requires votes at two separate meetings for local governments to approve franchise agreements.) Mayor Esther Manheimer and Council members Antanette Mosley and Sage Turner opposed the motion.
According to a staff report, the bike taxi would be allowed to operate daily from 7 a.m.-3 a.m., serving streets with speed limits of 35 mph or less in both commercial areas such as downtown, Biltmore Village and the River Arts District and residential areas such as Burton Street, Hillcrest and Lee Walker Heights. If approved, the company would start with just one pedicab, but the contract allows for as many as five. Each vehicle would be equipped with an electric assist motor to help navigate the city’s hilly terrain.
Manheimer said that she had “a great deal of reservation” about the service, citing complaints from residents about the Amazing Pubcycle, a slow-moving mobile bar that allows revelers to drink alcohol while riding. A franchise agreement for the Pubcycle was unanimously approved by Council — including by Manheimer, then vice mayor — in January 2013. Council also briefly permitted horse-drawn carriages to operate in Asheville’s downtown starting in April 2013 but banned the practice in May 2016 after pushback from animal welfare activists.
Council member Kim Roney said she supported the request because it would provide a mode of transportation for residents and visitors that did not use fossil fuels or contribute to automobile traffic.
But Manheimer said she was concerned that the pedicab service would further congest Asheville’s downtown and primarily be used by tourists without helping the broader community with its transportation needs. “We hear a lot of people say, ‘I don’t feel like I can go downtown. Downtown is so crowded,’ and so on and so forth,” she said. “I guess I just want to pause here and think about whether that’s the direction we want to go in or not.’
“I’m not sure of the direction that the city is trying to take but we are heavily dependent on tourism here,” responded Blue Ridge Rickshaw owner and Asheville resident Jordan Hrivnak. “I wouldn’t be in a category of the Pubcycle necessarily — more of an A-to-B transportation service — so I would be trying not to be clogging up the roadways. I’ve definitely been stuck behind that Pubcycle, and it’s kind of a pain.”
The request’s second reading and vote by Council is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22.
In other news
The Feb. 22 meeting, Council’s next, will be held in person at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville banquet room, 87 Haywood St. Council has been meeting remotely since Aug. 20, days after Buncombe County voted to reinstate its indoor mask mandate in response to rising COVID-19 cases; that mandate is set to expire Wednesday, Feb. 16.
Members of the public wishing to speak live at the meeting will be required to attend in person and must sign up at the door. Council will accept remote comments via email or voicemail through 9 a.m. Feb. 22, but no live call-in public comment will be permitted. The meeting will also be streamed through Asheville’s public engagement hub and on the city’s YouTube channel.
Two commenters at the Feb. 8 meeting disagreed with the city’s decision to not allow remote public comment, revisiting a theme raised when Council first returned to in-person meetings in the summer. (See “Local governments nix remote public comment,” Xpress, July 14, 2021, avl.mx/b7q.) They cited issues such as transportation, parking and work schedules that impede some community members’ ability to participate.
“I’m really concerned the city is not supporting all avenues for access,” said Alyx Perry, who works as a website and software developer in Asheville. “I’m a technology professional, and I know the city of Asheville has a fantastic IT department. There is no reason we can’t make meetings open to all participants at this point, via virtual or by phone.”