Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday defended his furious behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to snuff out a plan backed by 32 of 50 aldemen to license ride-hailing drivers to level the playing field with cabdrivers.
For years, cabdrivers and their City Council allies have accused Emanuel of of favoring Uber, whose investors include Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, the mayor’s brother.
But Emanuel maintained Monday that his only goal is to maintain the level of competition between ride-hailing and taxicabs that has dramatically improved passenger services.
“For years, the taxi industry never serviced the South Side or the West Side of Chicago. They never went there. Never picked up anybody. Never dropped anybody off. We now have an industry not only servicing all parts of Chicago, [but] also giving employment opportunities to people — a supplemental income. The majority of the drivers are doing it part time,” the mayor said.
“Through the competition, there’s choice. And more importantly than that, parts of the city that were cut off and not serviced before by the traditional taxi industry are finally getting service that never existed before,” he said.
Last week, Uber touted results of a new poll that showed 69 percent of Chicagoans surveyed oppose an influential alderman’s plan to license Uber and Lyft drivers to level the playing field with cabdrivers.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, accused Uber of using a “manipulated” poll and “sky-is-falling scare tactics” to “bully” aldermen and said it wouldn’t work.
“I’m gonna do what I feel is right. We have a responsibility to protect the people of Chicago and not put them potentially in harm’s way by not fingerprinting, licensing and background-checking people who could be potential criminals,” said Beale, chief sponsor of the licensing plan.
“If we don’t level the playing field, we are in jeopardy of losing the taxicab industry. The cab industry has been a vital part of our city. They’re ambassadors for the city,” he said. “I’m not going to sit back and allow an un-level playing field for one side or the other. Level the playing field and let the market take care of itself.”
Beale’s still-pending ordinance would require Uber and Lyft drivers to attend the one-day class needed to get limited chauffeur’s licenses; be fingerprinted by a city-approved vendor; and get their vehicles inspected by City Hall.
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 six years old.
Lyft and Uber, whose drivers once owed 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.
Nearly half of Uber drivers have now settled their debts. Those who fail to do the same by May 23 will no longer be eligible to use the Uber platform, sources said.
The mayor made his comments at a news conference Monday called to announce that ground would be broken this summer for the 95-story Vista Tower. The 1,200-foot building designed by award-winning Chicago architect Jeanne Gang will be the third-tallest building in Chicago.
On other subjects, Emanuel:
• Refused to say whether he considers it a conflict of interest for Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, to handle property tax appeals for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and investors in Trump’s luxury downtown hotel and condominium complex.
“I know what you’re trying to do. . . . Whatever question you have, you can ask him. He can answer for himself. . . . That’s a question obviously for Ald. Burke to answer. He’ll have to answer that, as all of us have to answer individually for what we do,” the mayor said.
“I do think as it relates to what he does in City Council and his work, he is a very important ally in putting our fiscal house in order and making sure we’re having the right priorities to move the city forward,” he said.
The Chicago Sun-Times Watchdogs reported Sunday that Burke’s law firm specializing in property tax appeals has helped Trump and investors in his luxury downtown hotel and condominium cut their property taxes by 39 percent over seven years, saving them $11.7 million.
When Burke’s law firm succeeds in lowering taxes for its clients, that means higher bills for other property owners to make up the difference. Attorneys on tax appeals generally work for a percentage of the savings.
• Said he’s not at all satisfied with the April slowdown in Chicago’s soaring homicide rate.
“The data people will say, ‘You can see the trends. February got better than January and March got better than February and April got better. But if you’re in Austin or Woodlawn or Back of the Yards or Little Village, you’re not like, ‘Hey, April is better than January,’ ” he said.
“If you look at it from a trend line, yes. But I’m not satisfied until communities on the South Side or the West Side that have been disproportionately affected by gun violence are free of gun violence. That’s how I measure . . . and that parents, given that it’s gonna start to warm up, feel that their children can be outside without the fear of gun violence.”