Alderman proposes giant step to save ‘dying’ taxicab industry

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Ald. Anthony Beale’s proposal includes requiring Uber and Lyft drivers to get the same city chauffeur’s licenses required for cabdrivers. | Sun-Times file photo

An influential aldermen on Wednesday delivered on his promise to propose a more dramatic rescue for a taxicab industry fighting for survival in the ride-hailing era.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, introduced an ordinance that would require Uber and Lyft drivers to get the same city chauffeur’s licenses required for cabdrivers.

In addition, Uber and Lyft drivers would be required to be fingerprinted by a city-approved vendor and get their vehicles inspected by the city.

A minimum of 5 percent of the total fleet of both companies would have to be accessible to customers with disabilities. And no ride-hailing vehicle could remain on the streets of Chicago that is more than 6 years old.

Salvage, rebuilt and junk vehicles would be expressly prohibited.

Lyft and Uber, whose drivers owe the city $15 million in unpaid parking tickets, red-light and speed camera fines and water bills, would also be required to immediately settle those debts to renew their operating licenses.

The sweeping ordinance was introduced on a day that saw the City Council approve the mayor’s plan to throw struggling cabdrivers a bone by reducing fines and relaxing licensing requirements.

Cabbies have likened the mayor’s plan to “shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Beale agreed.

“We’ve been taking those baby steps. This is the final, giant step that we need to take in order to level the playing field” further tilted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to let Uber and Lyft make airport pickups, Beale said.

“It’s a huge step in trying to save the taxicab industry …. Without it, they’re going to continue to be on life-support.”

Beale noted that the ordinance has 30 co-sponsors. If it holds, that’s four more votes than are needed for passage over Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s objections.

Emanuel has resisted efforts to license ride-hailing drivers on grounds that it could kill competition that consumers have demanded.

For years, cabdrivers and their City Council allies have accused Emanuel of of favoring Uber, whose investors include the mayor’s brother.

But Emanuel said Wednesday he has only consumers in mind.

“Everything we’ve done — not just between taxis and ride-sharing, but in the sense of Divvy and investing in public transportation — is to give commuters safe, reliable an comfortable choices,” the mayor said.

“We made sure there was competition, choice and a level playing field. It’s not about the industry. My view is, `What are the commuters and consumers looking for?’ They’re looking for choice.”

The mayor noted that he has “made some changes to help the taxi industry” by implementing an Uber-style app, folding the $1 gasoline surcharge into the flag-pull, imposing a 15 percent fare increase and tacking a 50 cent surcharge onto fares paid with credit cards.

“The peephole that I look through is, ‘Are the consumers getting something safe and reliable?’ And I’m clear we have choice. We have competitive choice in Chicago. And I don’t refer to these as baby steps. They have leveled the playing field.”

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