For now, Uber needs to cool it.
The ever-expanding ride-share company got an online petition going Monday to try to hurry Chicago into letting its UberX drivers pick up travelers at O’Hare and Midway airports.
The city said no way, not while it continues to receive and look into complaints about drivers for ride-share companies trying to get around the current pickup ban at O’Hare and Midway.
While it’s only a matter of time before ride-share companies, which truly represent the free-market future, are allowed to pick up travelers at Chicago airports — as they are in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Houston and a handful of other cities — the time is not now.
Already in Chicago, ride-share companies do drop-offs at the airports, and their licensed livery drivers, such as those with Uber Black, are allowed to do pickups. But for now the city is saying no to pickups by drivers who don’t have chauffeurs’ licenses. That’s not unreasonable for the heavily congested arrivals area at O’Hare.
Almost anyone who is at least 21 with a decent driving record and a newer car can drive for UberX. “Got a car?” the company asks on its website. “Turn it into a money machine.”
Generally, we think companies like Uber represent the future. They are a smart free-market solution to an old problem. That’s why we supported Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ordinance last year that imposed reasonable restrictions on ride-share companies while still letting them flourish.
One of the restrictions was airport pickups. We backed that limitation so that regular cab companies could hold on to a competitive advantage. After all, they pay the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for medallions to operate cabs. The average price for a medallion in March was $278,000, according to Chicago Dispatcher.
Uber didn’t help its case to break into Chicago’s airport market last year when it sent a text and email to its drivers to erroneously announce UberX drivers could do pickups at O’Hare and Midway. City Hall quickly set the record straight. Understandably, that left a bad taste for city officials.
We envision a day, though, when UberX and other ride-share companies with regular Joes and Janes behind the wheel will get the OK to pick up travelers at O’Hare and Midway. They can easily pay the same $4 fee cab and limo drivers are assessed. City officials need to start working on a plan to make it work.
The San Francisco Airport is giving it a try by designating an area for ride-share drop-offs and pickups on its upper level. The main concern there, an airport spokesman told us, was an increase in the volume of cars congesting the airport. Officials there are studying the impact to plan roadways accordingly.
Chicago must prepare for that. But the mayor also needs a plan to ease the pain for cab drivers — perhaps a partial rebate on medallions — because many will be driven out of business.