PROVINCETOWN — If you have tried and failed to engage a local in conversation, the best trick is still to ask for restaurant recommendations — even the flintiest of townfolk will break into passionate advice.
But if it’s a diatribe you seek, then bring up the dizzying array of vehicles on Commercial Street. Better yet, just say “pedicabs” — you’re bound to get an earful.
There are in fact many more pedicabs than there used to be. In 2015, there were eight, all owned by the same company, Ptown Pedicabs. Commercial Street Pedicabs started in 2020, and B\well’s pedicab fleet hit the streets in 2022.
There were 19 pedicabs in 2021, 32 in 2022, and 38 this year, according to Provincetown Licensing Agent Linda Fiorella. That includes a single pedicab that is licensed to a fourth company, MacMillan Pedicabs, which has just one driver.
This profusion has come with an increase in licensed pedicab drivers. There were 22 in 2015, 38 in 2019, and 88 in 2022, according to the town’s annual reports.
There were 55 drivers as of June 20, when a managing director at Geovisions, a J-1 student visa sponsor agency, emailed her for a list of all the licensed pedicab drivers in town, Fiorella said.
That was a Tuesday. By Saturday, the Geovisions director, Jimmy Brazelton, had flown to Provincetown to meet with all the employers of J-1s that Geovisions had placed. The State Dept. had “raised concerns,” he told one of them in an email, about students “working unauthorized and prohibited jobs.”
On Wednesday, June 28, his last day in town, Brazelton dropped by the licensing office to speak with Fiorella. That is when she learned that J-1 students are prohibited by the State Dept. from driving pedicabs.
“It turns out it’s been a thing for decades, but nobody here knew,” said Fiorella. “I wasn’t aware of visa issues when I trained for this job. Before me was Aaron Hobart. He didn’t know, and before him was Darlene Van Alstyne, and I doubt she knew, because she would have told him.”
Thirty-six of the 55 licensed drivers had submitted visa documents with their applications, Fiorella said, and 34 of those were J-1 visas. That was almost two-thirds of Provincetown’s licensed drivers at the time.
There were noticeably fewer pedicabs on the streets in July. Over several weeks, the companies built up new rosters of drivers. Fiorella also said that there could be some people driving without licenses.
“We don’t stop every driver we see,” she said. “We do require them to post their license and the company’s license inside the pedicab.” The drivers change a couple of times a day, however, and some drivers might not be displaying their license each time they drive, she said.
Companies are also required to post their names, phone numbers, and an identifying number for each pedicab on the outside of the vehicle so that complaints from pedestrians or motorists can be linked to specific cabs and drivers.
“The licensing board has periodic discussions about regulations,” Fiorella said, and held a public hearing on pedicab rules in July 2021. The identifying number for each pedicab is supposed to be on the right rear corner of the cab, at least six inches high, and printed in reflective lettering so it can be seen at night, for example.
“If people see a safety issue, they should call the police,” Fiorella said. She did not remember receiving any complaints through the police dept. this year, but she did receive a few in 2022, she said.
“I issued four or five fines last year, mostly at the beginning of the season,” she said. “It wasn’t accidents or anyone getting hurt. It was more like not stopping at signs or going the wrong way on a one-way street.” The owners talk to their drivers, Fiorella said, and complaints tend to drop off afterward.
“If someone has a complaint, and they’re willing to tell me their name, they can call me,” Fiorella added. The town does not record complaints or issue fines without knowing the name of the complainant.
“I’ve had people argue with me about that,” Fiorella said, “and I say, ‘Would you want me to issue you a speeding ticket based on Someone said they saw this?’ ”
The town does require pedicab owners to carry insurance for the driver and up to three passengers, according to the most recent regulations. There is no specified minimum coverage amount. Each pedicab is also inspected for roadworthiness every year by mechanics at the Ptown Bikes shop on Bradford Street.
“The company owners don’t come before the board every year — you don’t have to do that for renewals — but they do come every time they want to add another cab to their fleet,” Fiorella said. “The board asks questions, and there’s discussion.”
The board has never denied a request for another pedicab, Fiorella said. “They’ve had discussions — but they’ve never denied one.”