Rideshare legislation could go before the City Council today: A primer | Bleader

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rideshare legislation could go before the City Council today: A primer

Posted By on 05.28.14 at 07:39 AM

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Getting a Lyft in Chicago could change real soon.
  • AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
  • Getting a Lyft in Chicago could change real soon.
It was one hell of a mustache ride, but it's looking more and more like the laissez-faire heyday of rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber is drawing to a close. Two separate pieces of legislation are currently pending that would regulate app-based driver services—a bill at the state level, HB 4075, and an ordinance at the city level.

And it's all for your safety. Well, it's mostly for your safety.

That is to say, why it's happening and what needs to happen depends on who's asked.

The proregulation set, which refers to proposed new rules as "protections," has framed its position as a matter of public safety. For instance, on the website Who’s Driving Illinois, created to advance HB 4075, there's a handy video to suggest that unregulated rideshare drivers are apt to kill and/or molest people. (The dramatic piano music is a nice touch.)

Another, vociferous subset of the proregulation crowd includes backers of the traditional taxicab system. They're pushing these regulatory measures—via lobbyists behind the scenes and politicians in front of them—to protect passengers, sure, but primarily, they say, to protect cab drivers whose livelihoods are threatened by the johnny-come-lately rideshare drivers (although some rideshare drivers, for Uber anyway, are cab drivers). Looking out for their many drivers certainly has a nicer ring to it than looking out for the business interests of the few taxi company owners. But it's worth noting that the taxi industry just formed a $1 million political action committee to ensure more local politicians see things their way.

In the other corner, fighting to protect a consumer's right to choose how he'll get around—and their own profitability, naturally—are the rideshare companies. Since it's inevitable that regulations are coming, companies like Uber are supporting the passage of the lesser of two evils, the Mayor Emanuel-backed city ordinance, which passed the City Council's transportation committee and is awaiting a full council vote. The taxi lobby wants the council to wait to vote until the more stringent state regulations have had a chance to clear the General Assembly—which appears close at hand—and land on Governor Quinn's desk.

Here's a quick, not-wonky summary of each piece of legislation:

The city ordinance creates what's called a transportation network provider license for rideshare drivers who work more than 20 hours a week; it also says they can't work more than ten hours a day. HB 4075, on the other hand, caps drivers at 18 hours a week, at which point they'd be required to apply for a chauffeur's license.

The state bill requires rideshare vehicles to carry more insurance than taxis are required to carry: anytime a driver is using the app, he or she must have $500,000 in insurance coverage, compared to the $350,000 required of cab companies. The state bill would also allow cab companies to institute "surge pricing" similar to their rideshare counterparts. I spoke with Uber's regional manager for the midwest, Andrew MacDonald, and he says that when Uber cars are in high demand, the supply increases along with the prices; but the number of taxis on the road would remain static while prices increase.

I'm guessing that at some point the average consumer has been made seethingly angry by both rideshare apps and taxicab companies—the former for its ridiculous fares during periods of surge pricing, the latter for aggressive, rude, or hyperreligious drivers, in my own experience. But most people would like to have a more technologically friendly alternative to phoning or physically hailing a cab. And it's true—they'd prefer not to be killed or molested along the way. The city ordinance also lays out background check procedures for rideshare drivers.

There's a good chance the regulations will go before the City Council this morning. We'll post an update if that's the case.

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