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Mayoral candidates talk ride-hailing companies, autonomous cars

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Speaking to unionized transit workers at a forum Sunday afternoon, six of the candidates running for mayor talked about leveling the playing field between public transit and ride-hailing companies.

However, a few held back their criticism of companies like Uber and Lyft, pointing out the companies serve neighborhoods that once had a difficult time attracting taxi service. They also said they don’t want to hurt ride-hailing workers.

The candidates also made clear their distrust of autonomous vehicles during the Transit 4 All forum at the National Association of Letter Carriers Union Hall at Pershing Road and Wabash Avenue.

Candidates Gery Chico, La Shawn Ford, Susana Mendoza, Toni Preckwinkle, Paul Vallas and Willie Wilson attended the forum, moderated by Phil Rogers of WMAQ-TV. Throughout the forum, criticism of the ride-hailing companies generated the most applause.

Preckwinkle complained that Uber and Lyft do not face the same regulations as public-transportation agencies, while Chico focused on the saturation of ride-hailing cars throughout the city and the “clog caused by these cars going to the airport.”

Ford said certifications should be required for ride-hailing drivers, though Wilson said free markets are important.

Vallas said, “We can’t overregulate this industry out of existence,” and he said he would prefer to give new flexibility to taxi companies.

Finally, Mendoza complained that some Uber/Lyft and taxi drivers can barely make ends meet.

“We need to make sure that, again, we don’t fall into a trap of creating low-wage economies that aren’t furthering the workers’ right to be able to provide for their families,” Mendoza said.

When it comes to autonomous cars, most of the candidates seemed to believe the technology is years away from being ready.

“I am not for autonomous vehicles until you can prove to me that they are safe,” Mendoza said. “And we are far away from doing that.”

Vallas and Preckwinkle pointed to the jobs that would be lost to automated vehicles, while Wilson said, “we have to adapt to these situations.”

Ford said, “machines fail.”

Finally, Chico called it a balancing act.

“We don’t want to put our heads in the sand and protect the rotary phone,” he said.