London West End: 'I went undercover to find pedicab drivers charging £20 for a 5-minute trip'

Legislation was announced in the King's Speech which will allow Transport for London (TfL) to license and regulate pedicabs.
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I went undercover in central London to discover how much pedicabs charged. Some riders were tense and accused me of being a cop but still wanted me to pay £20 for a five-minute trip.

Equipped with a hidden microphone and dressed in plain clothes, I wandered around Leicester Square for two hours on a chilly Friday evening.

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Riders wanted to charge me between £20 and £50 for a five to 10-minute journey and tried to sugar me up with detours. Using an Uber for these trips, without detours, costs no more than £8.

In October an American tourist was charged £250 for a five-minute ride and in August, Westminster City Council claimed passengers were being charged close to £500 for 10-minute trips across the West End.

On Tuesday, King Charles announced plans to deal with the "scourge of unlicensed pedicabs in London" during his first King’s Speech to Parliament.

I approached four riders to find out how much they charged to get me to a bar in Greek Street, Soho, or a pub in the heart of Covent Garden from Leicester Square. Leicester Square was packed with people that night and pedicab riders made sure they were impossible to miss with music blaring from their cabs.

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I approached a rider outside the Hippodrome Casino on Cranbourn Street and was quoted £20 just to set off. That price doubled when I chased down a driver in Chinatown who was blaring music so slow I could barely hear myself think.

He tried selling me a ride “around the city” when the place I wanted to go was a six-minute walk away. When I seemed shocked with the £40 price, he tried negotiating with me.

Pedicabs lined up outside the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square on Friday, October 20. (Photo by Adrain Zorzut/LDRS)Pedicabs lined up outside the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square on Friday, October 20. (Photo by Adrain Zorzut/LDRS)
Pedicabs lined up outside the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square on Friday, October 20. (Photo by Adrain Zorzut/LDRS)

A third was tucking into his dinner when I asked him to take me up the road to Covent Garden. By this time, the streets were filled with revellers going to the theatre or getting their dinner.

“It’s just right there,” he said, sounding irritated. When I said I wanted a lift to meet friends there, he said “£20 - it’s better to walk”.

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He then quoted me £40 to get around Soho and £50 to get dropped off at the Punch and Judy bar afterwards. As this happened, a mother and her young daughter had hopped into a pedicab near me. I felt helpless because I did not want to blow my cover.

A fourth quoted me £5 a minute to ride around Soho and said the minimum ride was 10 minutes. He quoted £50 to travel to the Punch and Judy bar in Covent Garden from Leicester Square, with a detour through Oxford Street.

The conversation got heated when I asked him about customers being charged hundreds of pounds for short trips. He accused me of being a cop and got angry, saying he had lost customers by talking to me.

“That’s some police s*** you’re coming up with. You’re probably the police. It doesn’t matter who comes to me, it’s going to be the same,” he said.

'A fatality waiting to happen'

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Matt Pantelli from the Heart of London Business Alliance (HOLBA) said it is common practice for riders to tap an extra zero on the card machine when it comes to the final price and warns they are forcing visitors out of Leicester Square.

He said: “If you are at a bar or restaurant in Leicester Square and go to Piccadilly Circus, that’s where you hear the noise and it’s off-putting. It dissuades people from coming into the area.”

The executive chair of Hippodrome Casino said people regularly come in to complain about being ripped off by pedicab drivers. Simon Thomas said: “We get people here in a regular basis saying how they’ve been ripped off, how they were told how much Oxford Street to the Hippodrome is – they’re told it’s £15 – and then halfway here, they get told ‘give me the £50 now’ – and they feel scared because they’re either women or on their own with the rider.”

He said pedicabs are uninsured, unsafe and being ridden by undocumented drivers, and suggested a 1869 law allowing pedicabs to operate in London without a licence is to blame for their proliferation. He, like businesses across the West End, wants new legislation regulating pedicabs.

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Simon said: “The sad fact is the way the vehicles are driven, and the people driving them, and the roadworthiness of the vehicles. It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed. I seriously hope it doesn’t take that trigger point to bring forward legislation.”

Westminster City Council had called for a new transport bill in the King’s Speech on Tuesday and said it should include powers allowing Transport for London (TfL) to issue licences. Councillor Aicha Less, deputy leader and cabinet member for communities, public protection and licensing, said: “The prices we see quoted by pedicab drivers are completely ridiculous and we are working with our partners to educate visitors of the dangers of using rip-off rickshaws.

“This is one of the main reasons why we are pushing hard for a transport bill to be part of the legislative agenda. We want conclusive legislation so that TfL have the power to be able to regulate pedicab costs because without it, we are limited in what we can enforce.

“My message to residents and visitors is getting into a pedicab, which is unsafe and unlicensed, can cost you more than your day out. Don’t be ripped off and get the bus, a taxi, or use the underground to get home safe.”

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A TfL spokesperson said: “Pedicabs are the only form of unregulated public transport in London, and as such impact the safety of the capital’s road network, as well as customers being charged well-documented rip-off fares. As they are unregulated, drivers and vehicles have not undergone any checks, which could potentially mean an increased danger to pedicab customers and other road users.”

The Government’s Pedicabs (London) Bill announced in the King’s Speech will give TfL the power to issue licences.

The Met Police was contacted for comment.

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