Thursday, May 29, 2014

City Council approves rideshare regulations

Posted By on 05.29.14 at 08:30 AM

Ninth Ward alderman Anthony Beale spoke against passing the ordinance.
The City Council voted 34-10 yesterday to approve legislation that regulates Chicago's rideshare industry. (They also voted to make "upskirt" photographs illegal, but that's a post for another time.)

It's a victory for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft that supported the city ordinance as a lesser evil than HB 4075, legislation that's awaiting passage in the Illinois General Assembly. But it was a blow to the traditional taxi industry and members of cab drivers' unions who wanted the city to hold off until the much stricter state regulations could be enacted.

By the time the measure came up for a vote, the outcome was hardly in doubt. The ordinance was sponsored by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Emma Mitts, one of his council loyalists. And I spoke to several aldermen beforehand who said they hadn't thought about the ordinance but had decided to vote for it anyway.

The ordinance creates a "transportation network provider" license for rideshare drivers who work more than 20 hours a week and limits the number of hours they can work in a day. It also mandates background checks on drivers, which some companies already conduct; places an age limit on vehicles that can be used for rideshare; and puts checks on surge pricing. The state bill includes additional provisions, including insurance requirements, that the cab industry argues would level the playing field.

Ninth Ward alderman Anthony Beale, who chairs the transportation committee, drew applause from taxi drivers in the gallery when he implored his colleagues to delay passage of the ordinance. He was one of several aldermen who predicted that cab drivers will be hurt if rideshare companies are able to continue to operate with relatively few rules.

"I'm under the impression this will hurt the hardworking men and women who drive cabs every day," said Beale. "They are the ambassadors of this city and we're turning our backs on them . . . Medallions will be useless if this ordinance passes."

Alderman Proco Joe Moreno described himself as an enthusiastic supporter of rideshare and a practical supporter of the ordinance. “The state bill is terrible," he said. "This is better.” A regular user of UberTaxi (versus UberX or the black cars), Moreno says his drivers tell him they're fully behind the service. That's made him dubious of the poor-taxi-driver narrative advanced by supporters of the state law, especially when drivers were "treated like indentured servants" by the cab companies for years. "This is not about cab drivers," Moreno told the council. "It's about medallion owners."

Moreno's nonscientific survey doesn't represent the opinions of all taxi drivers, particularly those who've chosen not to drive for an app. Ehsan Ghoreishi, who attended the meeting to oppose the city ordinance (and who, incidentally, appeared in our 2012 People Issue), acknowledges that drivers have found themselves in a "weird position"—the rideshare issue has put their interests in line with the cab companies they’ve historically had an adversarial relationship with.

He says he loves the technology of rideshare services, but "it makes cab driving a part-time job rather than a profession." He considers rideshare the "Walmart of the cab industry" because it's global, so large as to be out of reach, and could be free to exploit its employees as such.

If HB 4075 is signed into law, the new city ordinance has to be brought into compliance with its provisions. So it could be back to the drawing board sooner than later.

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