Uber cleared for pickups at O’Hare, Midway airports

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A ride-hailing giant whose investors include Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother was cleared for take-off Tuesday at Chicago airports — just in time to cash in on the Thanksgiving travel rush.

Two days after Lyft was authorized to make pickups at O’Hare and Midway airports and McCormick Place, Uber got the same green light from City Hall.

Lyft was approved first because the company was the first to file its paperwork with the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Ride-hailing drivers making airport pickups are required to register with the city’s Department of Aviation, undergo airport-specific training and install additional identification signs on their vehicles.

In a news release, Uber Chicago General Manager Chris Taylor said consumers can expect to pay $28 for a typical UberX ride from O’Hare to downtown and $23 from Midway to the Central Business District.

That includes the $5 pickup fee tacked on, under Emanuel’s tax-laden, 2016 budget.

“This Thanksgiving, we hope that families can spend more time with each other and less time stuck in traffic on the roads trying to pick their loved ones up from the airport,” Taylor said.

“Requesting an UberX home from O’Hare and Midway should be as familiar and easy as getting around the city.”

Uber claims that 400,000 people signed a petition last month urging the City Council to approve ride-hailing pick-ups at Chicago airports. The company further claimed that more than 180,000 people opened the Uber app in September at O’Hare and Midway looking for a ride home.

Like taxicabs, they must wait in a designated staging area and proceed to O’Hare and Midway terminals only “upon receipt of a passenger request for a ride.”

Curbside pickup locations have been designated for O’Hare’s domestic terminals on the upper roadway between Terminals 1 and 2, and between Terminals 2 and 3. For the international terminal, the designated pickup locations are along the lower-level roadway.

At Midway, the designated pickup locations are on the upper level of the airport’s terminal.

Last month, Uber, Sidecar and Lyft came out the big winners after after Emanuel forged a compromise to salvage his plan to give ride-hailing companies the lucrative right to make airport pickups without requiring their drivers to get chauffeur’s licenses.

Instead of making chauffeur’s licenses a condition for making airport pickups, as aldermen had demanded, Emanuel agreed to study the idea and charge the burgeoning industry 2 cents more per ride in the meantime — for a total fee of 52 cents.

At least some of the money will be used to help cabdrivers defray the cost of obtaining a chauffeur’s license.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said then that Emanuel was counting on generating $30 million in fees by giving ride-hailing companies the keys to the airport kingdom. And the mayor was not about to jeopardize that windfall by requiring ride-hailing drivers serving the airports by imposing a chauffeur’s license requirement.

“This was the mayor’s proposal. He baked it into the revenue for the city. And they’re very concerned about making sure they meet those revenue goals,” Arena said.

Emanuel has been under fire for rushing through rules allowing ride-hailing services to cash in on the Thanksgiving travel rush while failing to deliver reforms promised to struggling cabdrivers during the mayoral campaign.

The mayor subsequently gave cabdrivers a 15 percent fare increase as a consolation for losing their last bastion of exclusivity at Chicago airports. But many of the promised reforms have gone nowhere. They include reducing credit card fees, a citywide taxi app like the one pioneered by Uber, and giving cabdrivers a cut of advertising revenue.

Under fire from a union representing cabdrivers for tilting an unlevel playing field even further in Uber’s favor, Emanuel has argued that his only motive was to provide consumers with more transportation options.

“My focus is not about the industry. My focus is on the customer. They have competitive, high-quality choices today. And we wanted to make sure, given all of the travel that’s going to happen this Thanksgiving that we are prepared as a city,” the mayor said.

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