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Austin testing out electric motor pedicabs for a year


AUSTIN (KXAN) - Bicycling uphill is tough. It's even harder when you're towing a pedicab with passengers. That's where electric-powered pedicabs come into play.

There are more than 500 pedicabs, operated by 39 companies, on the streets of Austin. Now, more than 40 have new batteries and motors, and the city is asking for your feedback as it tests them out for a year.

The e-pedicab pilot program is asking dozens of pedicab drivers with upgraded bikes to track their rides and for customers to give feedback. The city has, at this point, issued 42 permits, but Austin's Acting Mobility Services Division Manager Jacob Culberson told KXAN, it hopes to issue about 20 more, bringing the total number of e-pedicab permits to 65 or 70.

"What we want is to be able to collect enough data to write a good set of ordinances governing the e-pedicab use," Culberson explained. "Ensuring the safety to both the public at large and to the riding public that are using the e-pedicabs."

The city of Austin inspects pedicabs and e-pedicabs twice a year. For the electric ones, Culberson said, "We're requiring certain brake tests to ensure that their brakes can handle the e-assist motor." He added there's also a 15 mph speed limit.

Pedicab driver Luis Velazquez said it's too early to definitively say he's able to complete more rides with some help from the motor, but he is noticing a difference.

"In the last two weeks that it's been allowed, I noticed a tremendous difference in my lifestyle because now I'm not stressing over big hills and wondering if I can make it to the next hour," Velazquez said. "I have a little bit of help now that gets me up a hill that allows me to finish rides quicker. Provide a service that's more comfortable for my riders."

Culberson said Austin is one of the first cities in the United States to run an e-pedicab pilot program.

The Austin Transportation Department is outfitting each permitted e-pedicab with a special plate indicating its status, and customers who hitch a ride on them can take a survey and provide feedback about their experience.

"Innovation, such as e-pedicabs, adds to the ecosystem of shared and electric mobility," said Karl Popham, Austin Energy's electric vehicles & emerging technologies manager. "This is part of a larger, citywide electrification strategy to provide clean, safe, and efficient transportation choices in Austin."

The pilot program will run for about a year. City transportation officials say they wanted to collect data from two spring festival seasons for a comprehensive look.

The boundaries for the pilot are the same that apply to all pedicabs in Austin: 38th 1/2 Street and Oltorf Street to the north and south, and Pleasant Valley Road and MoPac to the east and west.

Credit for this article goes to KXAN of Austin TX.

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