Emanuel allows ride-hailing drivers to escape fingerprinting

SHARE Emanuel allows ride-hailing drivers to escape fingerprinting

| AP file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday proposed surge pricing, older vehicles and other regulatory relief to save Chicago’s shrinking taxicab industry, but allowed ride-hailing drivers to escape fingerprinting.

“This is gonna create a level playing field between the two industries as we better serve our city,” said Emanuel, whose brother is an Uber investor.

Last month, City Hall demanded that Lyft replace its background checker, review all 27,000 of its drivers and conduct random audits with results shared with the city after acknowledging that one of its drivers had a federal conviction for aiding terrorism.

In spite of that embarrassing oversight, the mayor’s plan drops the fingerprinting proposal that prompted a threat by Uber and Lyft to leave the Chicago market in favor of more rigid criminal background checks, quarterly spot-checks and audits.

“If fingerprinting was the one saving grace, why do they continue to lose drivers?” Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said of the cab industry, whose drivers are already subject to the fingerprinting requirement.

“We would never compromise public safety. But I hear the fleet owners…saying, ‘We need more drivers. We need your help in figuring out how we continue to attract more drivers.’..What we’re doing is just getting out of the way.”

Emanuel also proposed regulatory relief for the fast-growing ride hailing industry that includes relaxed vehicle sign requirements, quarterly reports, instead of monthly; annual debt checks instead of every six months and a streamlined license renewal process.

All of those changes would seem to give ride-hailing an even greater advantage over taxis.

To counter that perception, the mayor is proposing even greater regulatory relief for the heavily-regulated taxicab industry.

The sweeping changes would allow struggling Chicago cabdrivers, many of them facing foreclosure on taxicab medallions that have plummeted in value, to drive their vehicles for ten years instead of seven and authorize them to drive used vehicles with 125,000 miles, instead of 75,000.

Cabbies could also offer pre-arranged fares when provided through an app and incorporate GPS-based taxi meters approved by state and federal agencies. That could pave the way for surge pricing, just like Uber, Lyft and Via do during periods of high demand.

“If they have the technology and we have approved the technology and they can ensure the consumer accepts the fare in advance of the trip, they will be allowed to use surge pricing,” said Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokesperson Lilia Chacon.

Single medallion owners would be offered the option to remain unaffiliated free-agents to avoid paying annual fees.

The city would also bolster the shrinking pool of cabbies by allowing active ride-hailing drivers, livery chauffeurs and commercial driver’s license holders to apply for taxi chauffeur’s licenses without taking an “initial taxicab driver training course.”

They could skip the five- to six-day course that costs $300, so long as they pass a licensing exam.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME said Emanuel’s plan “adopts a few” of the union’s recommendations, but is too little, too late to save Chicago’s dying taxicab industry.

“Taxi driver jobs have been decimated and thousands of medallions are facing foreclosure, yet the city nibbles around the edges, allowing billion-dollar ride-hailing corporations to keep clogging our streets while making their own rules,” the union said.

“The city’s proposals do nothing to relieve taxi drivers from license fees or ground transportation taxes, fail to raise revenue from the ride-hailing giants, and would actually reduce accountability for ride-hailing companies by cutting oversight of their drivers and inspection of their vehicles.”

Among some of the other changes:

• Drop “duplicative and unnecessary” licensing requirements that require affiliation licensees to receive a two-way dispatch license.

• Reduce the annual fee paid by taxi affiliation licensees from $500 and $15 per vehicle to $5 per vehicle.

• Providing medallion owners with additional notice and time during the foreclosure process. That includes doubling from 15 to 30 days the time allotted for submitting defense documents without accruing ground transportation taxes and accessibility fund fees.

• Allowing owner-operators from the 2010 medallion auction to lease out their vehicles.

Emboldened by the Lyft embarrassment, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, has vowed to resurrect the stalled fingerprinting requirement and dare Uber and Lyft to walk away from the lucrative Chicago market.

Uber and Lyft have long maintained a background check based on FBI fingerprinting would discriminate against minorities who are “far more likely to have an interaction with the criminal justice system” and often for minor, nonviolent offenses where the charges are dropped but the record has not been expunged.

On Wednesday, Emanuel argued once again that requiring ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted was not the only way to guarantee public safety.

“There’s technology–whether it’s biometrics, facial recognition, that is as important, if not more valuable,” the mayor said.

The question now is whether the sweeping reforms introduced Wednesday will be enough to satisfy struggling cabdrivers and their City Council champions.

“Most of what’s here is what they told us they need,” Escareno said.

The commissioner hedged when asked whether the changes would be enough to save a dying taxicab industry.

“We’re actually asking that they do more to modernize. And we’re just really getting out of the way to see if they can get there with more technology,” she said.

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