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Roll 'em!

Straight-to-camera, Guy Harinton yells, “Why can’t I kill one of them little fuckers?!” He’s frothing. Here, at the Embarcadero’s Coronado ferry landing, a foreign-student pedicab driver has just ridden off with a load of tourists who want to do the San Diego Seal Tours’ amphibious bus/boat ride that starts from Seaport Village.

“He’s taking them down there to the Seal tour, knowing it’s closed!

“You want to see me get upset? Now I’m going to get upset! I hate those little bastards, I hate ’em, hate ’em, hate ’em! God DAMN, those little fuckers are getting us! One of these times, I’m going to fuck them up real! God damn it, what has happened to this business?… I’m just going to start smashing them. No questions, no rules anymore, just smash them in the face.”

He cuts off when some tourists appear.

“Ladies, how about a little ride today…?”

This is how bad it’s gotten, the tension between local pedicab riders and the foreign students who swell their ranks in summertime till they outnumber locals about six to one. This explosion is part of 60-year-old ex-chef Harinton’s pedicab life, captured on video by fellow pedicab rider Paul Reeves and filmmaker Rigo Reyes.

But Reeves and Reyes’s documentary was made before the death-by-pedicab of visiting retired schoolteacher Sharon Miller last Fourth of July. She was a passenger in a pedicab ridden by a Turkish student. That event has worsened the conflict, bringing public attention to the perceived “problem” of downtown’s pedicabs: they’re overpopulated and underregulated.

And that’s what has brought me to Martin Luther King Promenade, between First and Second Avenues, alongside the trolley tracks.

It seems incredible that someone could die here, in this innocent spot. After all, it’s a pedestrian way fenced off from the craziness of downtown, the Gaslamp, and the ballpark, a place where you might saunter with a lover or meander with your dog. Yet here Mrs. Miller fatally tumbled out of San Diego’s most benign form of public transport, a pedicab.

Suddenly, people were calling pedicab drivers “killers.” Letter-writers wanted them banned, city councilmembers wanted updates on regulation recommendations. Above all, people complained, there were just too many of them competing for customers in the restricted space of the Gaslamp and competing with cars for space on the streets, especially on Fifth Avenue. City staff admitted they issued as many permits as were requested each year, about 500 for the actual pedicabs and over 800 to “operators,” that is, the pedicab riders. Training was up to the pedicab companies. Seat belts were mandatory, but not necessarily the wearing of them. There was also evidence of tension between some American pedicab drivers and some of the foreign nationals here for the summer. Pedicab owners hiring Americans accused other owners of turning the industry into a foreign-labor sweatshop, forcing foreign students to gouge customers just to break even. Owners of pedicab fleets who hired foreign students said that these students were more motivated than American pedicabistas. Ethicists debated the morality of using humans to physically pull other humans around town.

One thing has become plain: After a century in the shadow of the internal-combustion engine, the nonpolluting pedicab, the much-maligned rickshaw, maybe the first significantly green transportation initiative since the bicycle, is back.

Mrs. Miller’s fall from an open pedicab in a pedestrian area was a frighteningly arbitrary tragedy for the Millers, and for Sukru Safa Cinar, the 23-year-old Turkish student who was the rider that Saturday morning.

From the Channel 10 report:

The fatal accident occurred shortly before noon Saturday on Martin Luther King Promenade. Retired schoolteacher Sharon Miller, who was riding in Cinar’s three-wheeled pedal taxi with a friend, fell out as he allegedly swerved side to side on the pedestrian path, where he was riding in violation of posted signs, San Diego police Assistant Chief Guy Swanger said.

The 60-year-old Illinois resident, who was in San Diego with her husband to attend a national education conference, fell onto a sidewalk and suffered a severe head injury. She was pronounced dead Sunday at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

How much was the surplus of pedicabs — and the accompanying, sometimes hard-edged competition — the underlying cause of the accident?

It’s around 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, downtown, at Fifth and Market. It’s not yet kick-the-drunks-out time (that happens around 2:00 a.m.), but everyone’s buzzed. Cafés bulge with people sitting, chatting, laughing, spending beaucoup bucks. Table candles wink, glasses clink. A guy plays a beat-up sax, another sings on the sidewalk. Open pedicabs weave slowly through, some with giggling couples aboard, others empty, giving the scene a turn-of-the-century feel — the 19th–20th century. It’s like a Pissarro or a Renoir painting. Cars push up Fifth toward Broadway, but people, pedicabs, and the bicycle cops slow traffic down. Yet the cosmopolitanizing effect of the pedicabs is palpable. Drivers shout across Fifth, in Serbian, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, all letting “their own” know where the business is and talking about food, later, when things have calmed down.

But it’s not calm now. “Hey, Jack!” yells a boozed-up guy who stands at the curb. His buddy’s just coming out of a bar. “Race you back to the hotel!” He points to a couple of pedicabs, and a half dozen more descend. But the friends climb aboard the original two. They egg on their riders, who head off uphill, standing on the pedals, calves straining.

A block north, a blond-haired guy leaning against his pedicab calls out to a friend across the road something like “Idi uhvatiti! Idi uloviti!” He points at a couple coming out of a restaurant, hesitating at curbside, and his friend jumps on his bike and swoops in on the innocent couple.

“It means ‘Go and catch them!’ ” the guy says. His name is Novak, and he’s a final-year student in economics from Belgrade. “We help each other out. There are maybe 30 of us Serbs here.”

There are as many as 100 pedicabs cruising the area. Their most lucrative time is the feeding frenzy that takes place between midnight and 2:00–3:00 in the morning, when the Gaslamp’s hard-core partiers start emerging from bars and gearing up to go home — to lofts downtown or to convention hotels. The ride’s too short to be profitable for a taxi and too far to walk for a high-heeled date, especially if you’re both tipsy. It’s the perfect setup for pedicabs.

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marko Sept. 9, 2009 @ 2:52 p.m.

make them have a CA drivers licenses, and make them be bonded/insured. that would fix all the problems.


jerome Sept. 9, 2009 @ 4:59 p.m.

hmmm? anger, racism,threatening physical harm,all very rare it seems to this local resident,the economy is on a slow road up its been down so long no one knows whats UP. but yep, maybe to many pedicabs, but the market will balance itself>thats american capitalism. but there is no subsitute for time, the word will get out and less out of country drivers will be the reality. why confuse the issue with hate,hate a hater and your a hater,oh god when will we learn. my experience>>>>GOT OFF THE FERRY,WALKING TO SEAPORT VILLAGE LIMPING WITH MY CANE NO EXTRA $ FOR A RIDE; I HEAR "HEY SIR WHERE YA GOIN", I SAY SEAPORT VILLAGE BUT I'M BROKE,HE REPLYS GET IN ITS ON ME> NOW THATS THE SAN DIEGO I SEE .........THEN OUTTA THE BLUE I SEE MY DAUGHTER back from her hike from harbor island she says hey dad where ya goin, she hops in >FREE off we go chillaxe peeps you only see whats inside you.........


CaptainSanDiego Sept. 9, 2009 @ 5:15 p.m.

I took the ferry to work on Coronado every day for three years. So I saw how the Pedicab operators operated. Some were okay but some were obnoxiously rude. A tourist who ignores them or just says, "No" is usually given a parting shot. I heard, "Well, F-ing walk then," more than a few times. There is a fine line between hawking and hassling and some of these guys cross that line . . .


basilisk Sept. 10, 2009 @ 1:10 a.m.

What an intersting story. I only go downtown if I have to. So this opened my eyes,



Ponzi Sept. 11, 2009 @ 1:44 p.m.

This issue could be easily solved by eliminating the fraud in the J-1 Visa system and in particular by attacking the pedicab loophole that is being abused.

These “scholars” that are issued a J-1 Visa are sponsored by an employer. They are suppose to be getting additional education as an “intern” or “trainee.“

The J-1 sponsor is suppose to “formulate a training outline that provides a clear definition of the internship/training goals and describes the proposed tasks“ and submit that to the U.S State Department.

The spirit of the J-1 program is to allow scholars to work and study in the U.S. and immerse in the culture, language and work ethic.

The program is NOT for WORK alone. It sounds like, in the case of these foreign pedicab employees, the J-1 Visa is being highly abused.

The program is not for them to come over to the U.S. and work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to save money. It is an educational and cultural Immersement and study/learning program.

If driving pedicels is all these people are doing, the simple thing is to report all of them to the U.S. State Department.

You can’t convince me that working as a pedicab driver is “learning” or a “trainee” for any scholarly pursuit. These folks probably never even visit a museum at Balboa Park!

“We gave $1200 for this form,” says Vahap, pulling out his J-1, the 120-day student work-study application. “But they are free.”

These are foreign scholars? They can’t use their own embassy to find out this is a free application? Why? Because I’m betting many are not even college students and many others pay to get the sham paperwork riddled with baloney about learning and pushed through the State Department.


Ponzi Sept. 11, 2009 @ 1:48 p.m.

And if what I posted doesn’t seem to resonate as true, then why doesn’t every Mexican student get a J-1 Visa and work as a pedicab or other menial job all over the US?

There is fraud in the system and it’s being perpetuated by the pedicab owners who are recruiting these “students” who are using the J-1 for a purpose it is not intended to be used.

If the San Diego City Council, the citizens, the U.S. citizen pedicab operators, to anyone else annoyed by them should be filing complaints with the U.S Department of State and their numbers will evaporate.


Ponzi Sept. 11, 2009 @ 2 p.m.

This is from the Dept of State website: (1) Ensure that the participant has sufficient financial resources to support him or herself during his or her search for employment;

(2) Provide the participant with pre-departure information that explains how to seek employment and how to secure lodging in the United States;

(3) Prepare and provide to program participants a roster of bona fide job listings equal to or greater than the number of participants for whom pre-arranged employment has not been secured; and,

(4) Undertake reasonable efforts to secure suitable employment for any participant who has not found suitable employment within one week of commencing his or her job search.

(e) Participant compensation. Sponsors shall advise program participants regarding Federal Minimum Wage requirements and shall ensure that participants receive pay and benefits commensurate with those offered to their American counterparts.

(i) Unauthorized activities. Program participants may not be employed as domestic employees in United States households or in positions that require the participant to invest his or her own monies to provide themselves with inventory for the purpose of door-to-door sales.

They ar enot to invest their own money, which is like being an entrepreneur. But they are "renting" a pedicab which is like buying inventory. Perhaps this rule needs to be clarified.

Also, they are suppose to have enough money to get through their stay, so if they are complaining baout not having enough money to return home, they have also violated the rules.


whyigotahaveid Sept. 14, 2009 @ 8:16 p.m.

why anytime things get tuff n competitive, the whites right away wanna blame the immigrants . they already have the advantage , most businesses are white owned and hire their own. whites usually wont do any type of labor. so its natural that the applicants for these type of jobs are flooded with eager happy to work immigrants that think the $ is great. i saw something interesting today, white men working the carwash . now that has to be the sign of the times.


Ponzi Sept. 15, 2009 @ 12:23 p.m.

whyigotahaveid, nothing like some racists comments about whites.

My point is that what they are doing is illegal. They are using the J-1 visa just for work and that is not what the visa is supposed to be used for. It is for learning, an internship, cultural emersion and study. Renting a bike and working 12 hours a day is not what the visa is intended for.

If the local authorities would address the situation with the Department of State, the situation would hopefully go away. There are plenty of "white" kids doing menial jobs and many would gladly do the pedicab work. I would much rather see our own citizens, whatever color, sex, or other label they be, get those jobs. Plus the issue is of "over-capacity" so sending half of them home would begin to fix the problem as well.


SDaniels Sept. 15, 2009 @ 2:53 p.m.

whyigota, you make some valid points, but they a little off mark for this situation, and it is best-- as always-- to look ahead at what we can do to fix it. Ponzi's got this issue sewn. Thanks!


whyigotahaveid Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:35 p.m.

i like these comment forums, cuz i can read the views of others . mine may not be right but i take into account yours. and learn. i used to be very closed minded and racist. but now i see it aint all yall . and it aint all us. but a beautiful rainbow sherbert of disfunction that is our world. so please dont take offense. and i wont take any also. lets have a beer !


CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:46 p.m.

but a beautiful rainbow sherbert of disfunction that is our world

LOL I love that! Thanks, why, very good. :)


SDaniels Oct. 1, 2009 @ 11:23 p.m.

I agree, and would definitely raise a toast to whyigota's phrase.


whyigotahaveid Oct. 2, 2009 @ 10:44 a.m.

ha ha, i knew i wasnt crazy . i dont care what that Dr. sez


MountainMike Nov. 7, 2016 @ 10:46 a.m.

In 2004 I was driving an electric cab called Mini Roadsters (they were golf carts modified to look like a roadster). The pedicabs would make fun of us by calling us "clown cars" and yelling, "clown cars suck!". All the instances but one of disrespect were from pedicabs.


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