Increased fees shut down East Lansing pedicab service
East Lansing’s bike-taxi service, Spar-Thai, put the brakes on its operation last December after city officials nearly tripled the cost of licensing fees.
The closure was a result of an unexpected increase in the city’s licensing fees for drivers — which were raised from $30 to $80 last summer — just two months after the business’ debut in May 2011, Spar-Thai owner Dave Thorin said.
Spar-Thai offered pedicab rides on three-wheeled electric bikes.
“East Lansing hit us with a bill that we didn’t anticipate,” he said. “Had I known they would do that, I wouldn’t have opened the business to begin with.”
Since a majority of the pedicab drivers were college students, many couldn’t afford to pay a licensing fee along with the costs of a mandatory background check and drug test, he said.
“We put all of our eggs in one basket,” Thorin said.
“It was really disappointing. We were on a roll, and the city just got in the way.”
As a new business that had been consistently growing since its launch, Thorin said the closure of Spar-Thai, which doubled as a laundry facility, is especially heartbreaking considering there might have been other options available.
Thorin said he wrote a letter in September 2011 to the city asking if it would re-evaluate the situation and possibly waive the fees because the company operated through the use of bikes, not motor vehicles.
He did not receive a response until late December, just days before his lease expired, Thorin said.
“If they would have told me up front that those were their intentions, and if they would have responded (to the letter) in a timely manner, I could have at least had a chance to regroup,” Thorin said.
East Lansing City Clerk and Assistant City Manager Marie McKenna said while it is unfortunate to see any business in the city close, the change in price was determined by the amount of time staff spent processing each licensing application.
“Raising or lowering fees is a policy question that is not resolved easily or quickly and requires consideration of a number of different factors,” McKenna said in an email.
“We have not been able to address this particular concern as quickly as (Thorin) may have preferred.”
Although there still are no tenants lined up to fill Spar-Thai’s spot at 420 Albert St., City of East Lansing Senior Project Manager Lori Mullins said the city is working to get the word out about the available location to potential business owners.
Psychology senior Kalim Khan, who lives near Spar-Thai and has used the service multiple times, said he was disappointed when he discovered that it was closing.
“It’s a tragedy,” Khan said. “There are so many boarded up shops in the downtown area — it’s discouraging.”