Yesterday, May 8, was a really windy day. The sign on my fender skirt blew off. I lost my chin-strapped sun hat three times, and my glasses once. Things were blowing around, all over town. The west wind was so fierce that it was difficult to carry people westbound on my pedicab, on the west side.
One of the things that blew away last night was the pedicab driver license of Onur Altintas. I found it at the corner of 49th & Broadway while chasing my hat! The license is expired. Why was he still driving with an expired license? Did he replace it and give or sell it to someone else, for them to use illegally? Was he using it because he couldn't afford $35 to renew for the coming year?
My dilemma was, should I throw the license away, keep it, or find him and give it back to him? My decision stems from the history of pedicabbing in the eight years since I started. In 2002 there were about 75 pedicab drivers citywide. One was Algerian, one French, one Ecuadorean and one Canadian. All the rest were Americans. All were licensed drivers, and all had insurance.
Two Turk nationals found that the pedicab business in NYC was unregulated and, therefore, ripe for cheating. They bought dozens of pedicabs each, and advertised in Turkey for drivers to come to NYC and make money. And they ran uninsured , unlit pedicabs driven by unlicensed drivers, all over midtown. The number of pedicabs grew, and problems were noticed. Guys were driving the wrong way. Guys were driving on sidewalks. Guys didn't have a clue where Penn Station was.
The City finally regulated our business in November of 2009. By that time, well over a thousand pedicab drivers from Turkey and Central Asia were taking business away from me, a licensed driver who'd spent $2000 a year on insurance, and who had good lights. In anticipation of the deadline, hundreds of defective pedicabs were offered for sale on Craigslist. Hundreds of drivers were scrambling to get green cards for US residency, NYS driver licenses, or fake IDs.
When the smoke cleared on 9/21/09, there were about 325 licensed pedicab drivers and over 900 registered 'cabs. These were just the ones that passed inspection. This means that at least that number of pedicabs had been driven daily. Many, many more had failed inspection. I realized that I had been competing for business with around 700 to 800 illegals.
Sgt. Andy Lopez of Midtown North NYPD had said to me that pedicab licenses are easy to fake. Cops need to check licenses by had to make sure they're real. A cop checked mine in February, excusing himself by saying that there were many fake licenses out there.
My guess is that Onur Altintas had a real license, but that someone else has been using it, because the odds of being stopped and checked by a cop are fairly slim. And now I have his expired license. What should I do?
Last night was May 8. The license expired on April 30th, a week and a day ago. It clearly was lost last night, so it was used as recently as last night. For all I know, it's been passed to someone else, who is competing with me by using Onur's expired license. That's a good reason for me to protect my business.
I'm keeping the license. Maybe I'll throw it away.