How safe are pedicabs?

It’s 9:45 on a Saturday night, and Travis Santanna is at Chico PediCabs, on West First Street, preparing to pull out his rig and ride the streets of Chico.

The 27-year-old has been operating pedicabs for about four years and said he feels pretty safe riding around town—except around drunken drivers.

A couple of recent collisions with cars, one of them quite serious, as well as a violent mugging of a pedicab driver have made the business seem less safe lately.

Janet Stephens was allegedly driving drunk at 1:30 a.m. Sept. 16 when she plowed into the rear of a pedicab on Nord Avenue and injured the four passengers and the cab’s operator, some seriously. The 22-year-old was arrested and booked into Butte County Jail, charged with felony DUI.

About a month earlier, a hit-and-run accident involving a pedicab took place in the same area, sending the pedicab operator and his passenger to the hospital. Another pedicab operator was robbed Sept. 30 after he was struck in the face for refusing to empty his pockets.

All the media attention generated by these incidents has even led to heckling, Santanna said. The most common remark he hears: “Get out of that pedicab. It’s a death trap.”

“I stay out of the way of cars,” Santanna said.

With his knit cap, cargo pants, and sneakers, Santanna is ready for a night of helping “intoxicated people” make their ways home.

If the customer is “totally drunk,” Santanna tries to help him or her as much as he can. But when customers act destructively or make it hard for him to pedal, he said he has no choice but to kick them out. “Right when they come up I can tell what kind of ride it’s gonna be,” he said.

“We obey the laws,” Santanna said. “There are intoxicated people in the cab, and you have to take care of them. We help the best we can.”

It’s not drunken customers he’s worried about, it’s drunken drivers. “You need to worry about who’s behind the wheel, not the pedicab.”

Robbery is also an ever-present concern. Santanna was robbed about two years ago and lost some money, but nobody was hurt. He still feels safe doing his job. “You just have to be careful,” he said.

Chico Pedicabs has about six drivers. They pick up their rigs and start working at about 10 p.m., staying out until the early hours of the morning. Although there has been a decrease in the number of customers, Santanna said there isn’t much business during this season anyway.

The recent rash of pedicab incidents doesn’t seem to have fazed customers much. Stephanie Earhart, 28, said her views of pedicabs haven’t changed because of recent events. “It does scare me, but you could walk down the street and get hit,” she said while walking in downtown Chico Monday night (Oct. 9).

John Dean, 38, said he never considers taking a pedicab—not because he’s scared, but because he’d rather walk. “There’s no fault [on the part of the pedicab operators] for the accidents that happened, but it is too bad that they happened,” he said.