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Laura Washington: Uber solves my ‘hailing while black’ problem

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Two numbers tell the tale.

350,000.

3.9 million.

Traditional taxi cabs made 350,000 trips beginning or ending in Chicago’s underserved communities between October 2015 and March 2016.

Ride sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, racked up a stunning 3.9 million trips to or from underserved communities in the same period, according to City Hall.

The city defines “underserved” as “areas with high levels of transit-dependent populations and areas that are not receiving high levels of taxi or ride-share service.”

Mostly, the South and West sides of Chicago.

OPINION

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Those 3.9 million trips added up to tens of thousands of people who got where they wanted and needed. And thousands of drivers who got work when they wanted and needed.

Those digits drown out the cacophony in the ferocious battle between the Emanuel administration, the Chicago City Council and the ride-sharing companies.

Ald. Anthony Beale is pushing an ordinance that would require ride sharing drivers to get a city’s chauffeurs license, requiring a one-day class, be fingerprinted for background checks, and submit to regular vehicle inspections, among other things.

“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,” the 9th Ward alderman told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.

Ride-sharing drivers are “potential criminals” who must be vetted, he added.

Uber responds that 66 percent of Uber drivers are rolling less than 10 hours a week, to supplement their incomes or keep them going between jobs. The digital disrupter argues it makes no sense to saddle drivers with hundreds of dollars in licensing fees and a blind bureaucracy, and claims the ordinance would put them out of business.

I don’t buy that and, yes, some regulation is needed.

But let’s get real. While some taxi drivers are professional, many are hardly “ambassadors.” Those I encounter are rude, clueless and reckless.

Most infuriating, they won’t pick up and drop off in certain neighborhoods. I am so done with hailing while black.

Several times a week, Uber drivers cheerfully take me to areas where taxis refuse to roll. I trust Uber to get my octogenarian mother to her South Side home, safe and sound.

Ride-sharing is revolutionizing transportation and bringing economic development at a time of dire need.

“A black man couldn’t get a cab for 80 years in Harlem, right?” Voltaire Xodus commented as we caught up over coffee the other day.

And, in Chicago, and every other major American city,” I corrected my former student. Voltaire is now a social entrepreneur who runs a tech startup in Amsterdam.

“Uber and Lyft come out and here, it is an innovation that …not only does it shatter 80 years of racism, it puts money in the hands of people that will do the right thing in the communities.”

It lets us take care of us.

The city is on track to reap $50 million in revenue from ride-sharing services this year, Uber says.

Uber drivers have collectively earned more than $250 million in the last two years, the company reports, and 54 percent of its 30,000 drivers live on the South and West sides.

In neighborhoods that suffer from stratospheric poverty and unemployment rates. In neighborhoods where we would otherwise be doomed to hailing while black.

Beale and many of the 31 aldermen backing the proposed ordinance represent those neighborhoods.

The city and the ride-sharing firms must find a compromise. Keep us rolling.

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