It looks like Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have staved off an embarrassing defeat on the City Council floor on a controversial ordinance to license and fingerprint ride-hailing drivers.
Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th), who pushed through his more rigid licensing ordinance last week, on Monday agreed to a compromise that would license all Uber and Lyft drivers after a daylong course that could be completed online and background checks performed by the companies with information shared with the city.
But there would be no fingerprinting for at least six months.
The hiatus would be used to appoint a commission charged with conducting what Beale calls an “independent study” of the value and fairness of fingerprinting. If the recommendation is to proceed with fingerprinting, it will be done. If not, fingerprinting would be eliminated as a requirement for all city employees, the chairman said.
The language, which is not yet in ordinance form, also includes a compromise on Beale’s demand that Uber and Lyft be required to serve passengers with disabilities.
Beale’s original plan would have required a minimum of 5 percent of the total fleet of both companies to be accessible to customers with disabilities.
Under the compromise, Uber and Lyft will get a year-long reprieve. They’ll have six months to devise a plan to serve riders with disabilities and six months to implement it. If the plan is not in place after the year is over, there will be “a fine so high that they’re gonna be buying two disabled vehicles per day for the disabled community until they get to the number” of 5 percent, Beale said.
With those changes, Beale has agreed to substitute the compromise ordinance for the version he rammed through a joint committee Friday on a voice vote.
“I have the votes for fingerprinting. But we’re gonna give ’em six months to back up the claim whether we need to do it or we don’t,” Beale said after a sometimes heated closed-door briefing that included aldermen, company lobbyists and top mayoral aides.
“Once that study comes back, trust me when I tell you, they have six months. And if it comes back that, `Yes, fingerprinting is necessary,’ I promise you as strong as I’m sitting here breathing that they’re gonna be mandated to fingerprint in six months.”
Beale was asked why he agreed to the softer version if, as he claims, he really did have the votes to pass the more rigid licensing ordinance co-signed by more than two-thirds of the City Council’s 50 aldermen.
“This has been a very contentious issue for my colleagues. . . . There’s different sides. People saying it should be done. Some people are saying it doesn’t,” Beale said.
“To clear the air and to clear all the smoke and mirrors, the study will streamline exactly what we need to be doing in Chicago.”
Beale claimed that the “disabled community is OK with this.”
Access Living made it clear that is not the case. Not by a long shot.
“We still want 5 percent of vehicles to be accessible in the [Uber and Lyft] fleet,” Access Living spokesman Gary Arnold said.
“The ride-share companies have had two years. We’ve seen nothing from that. . . . A report showed in all the time they’ve been here through August 2015, they had only issued 14 rides to people who use wheelchairs.”
Lyft was quick to embrace the compromise and urge aldermen to support it.
“This agreement sets high safety standards while still allowing people to use Lyft to get around,” the company said, withdrawing an earlier threat to abandon the lucrative Chicago market.
Until last week Emanuel had steadfastly opposed licensing on grounds that it would deny consumers the transportation choices they demand and leave riders on Chicago’s South and West Sides underserved by the taxicab industry high and dry.
On Monday, the mayor hailed what he called an “honest compromise to move forward” on a contentious issue. He called Chicago the “first city to do licensing” and “get ride-share to agree to that.”
“Alderman Beale and I worked through some issues today. … We’re gonna have a six- to nine-month study of fingerprinting citywide about a whole host of things,” the mayor said.
Beale’s stricter ordinance would have required Uber and Lyft drivers to get restricted chauffeur’s licenses after a one-day class, be fingerprinted by a city-approved vendor and get their vehicles inspected by City Hall.
That’s the version Ald. John Arena (45th) supports. When Beale makes a motion on the City Council floor Wednesday to substitute the compromise ordinance, Arena says he’ll push for a vote on Beale’s original licensing ordinance.
“This proposal that came up half-way through this meeting of a six-month study on the validity of fingerprinting . . . is ludicrous. Until we have a more comprehensive database of offenders, fingerprinting is the gold standard,” Arena said.
Arena said the city should require fingerprinting while the study is carried out.
“This is about consumer protection and nothing else,” Arena said. “If my daughter or my constituent’s daughter or son … get into a cab, we fingerprint them. We’ve checked them. We have a reasonable standard. … Is this the person they say they are? That’s what a fingerprint does for us.”
Arena was asked whether he believes Emanuel is favoring Uber because the ride-hailing giant’s investors include the mayor’s brother.
“I can’t speak to the reasons why, [but] he is definitely favoring this industry to the detriment of cabs,” Arena said.
Uber and Lyft have threatened to abandon the lucrative Chicago market if aldermen forge ahead with the fingerprinting plan.
The ride-hailing giants maintain that a background check based on FBI fingerprinting would discriminate against minorities who are “far more likely to have an interaction with the criminal justice system,” often for minor, nonviolent offenses where the charges are dropped but the record has not yet been expunged.