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Uber accused of using ‘manipulated’ poll to bully aldermen

Ald. Anthony Beale talks to reporters last month. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

A ride-hailing giant whose investors include Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother was accused Friday of using a “manipulated” poll and “sky-is-falling scare tactics” to kill a pending plan to license Uber drivers to level the playing field with cabdrivers.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee condemned as a biased joke a poll conducted for Uber that purportedly shows overwhelming opposition to Beale’s licensing plan.

Beale accused Uber of conducting what is commonly known as a “push poll” — with questions worded in such a way as to elicit a desired response.

“We’re talking about a $68 billion business. Chicago is probably one of their most profitable markets. They’ve got enough money where they can craft any kind of message they want and that’s what they did,” Beale said.

“I don’t put any stock in it whatsoever. These companies have a history of lying and trying to manipulate the real message. Based on the way they asked those questions, they got the results they were looking for to protect themselves. This is a big corporation trying to manipulate the people of Chicago and elected officials.”

The April 21 poll conducted for Uber by “We Ask America” concluded that 69 percent of the 600 people surveyed “opposed the concept of a city ordinance that would greatly restrict Uber in order to save” a taxicab industry fighting for survival in the ride-hailing era.

The poll further showed that 71 percent of those surveyed and 97 percent women favor ride-hailing over taxis.

And 76 percent of those questioned do not believe that cabs will meet the needs of chronically under-served communities if Uber were suddenly to stop operating in Chicago, as the company has threatened to do if the proposed ordinance is approved.

“That’s another sky-is-falling tactic. They’re trying to scare people,” Beale said Friday.

“This is the same ordinance passed in New York, and it hasn’t forced them out of business.”

The poll further concluded that 62 percent of those surveyed had a “less favorable opinion” of Beale when told the alderman was “sponsoring the anti-Uber legislation.”

If the poll was intended to scare Beale or bully his colleagues, it won’t work, the chairman said.

“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,” Beale said.

“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. I’m not going to sit back and allow an unlevel playing field for one side or the other. Level the playing field and let the market take care of itself.”

Gregg Durham, chief operating officer of, “We Ask America,” categorically denied that the poll results were manipulated to achieve a desired result.

“That is a very typical response when somebody doesn’t like the results. Every pollster in the nation gets those kinds of responses saying, ‘It’s phony. It’s baloney,’ “ Durham said.

“What really passes the smell test here is if you know people who have used Uber or other ride sharing services, it is generally greatly preferred over other experience they have had with cabs. It can’t be much more straightforward than asking, ‘If you could only have one, which would you prefer?’ How is that leading?”

Uber spokesperson Brooke Anderson said the poll questions were “very straightforward” and the results “speak for themselves.

“It’s clear that voters do not think the taxi industry should be bailed out at the expense of consumers in under-served communities. Chicagoans reject this approach of harming one industry to help another,” Anderson said.

Anderson also shot down Beale’s claim that Uber has survived a similar licensing ordinance in New York City.

In New York, Uber provides a ride-hailing product that’s “80 percent more expensive” and drivers there work “far closer to full-time,” she said. In Chicago, 66 percent of Uber drivers are on the road for “less than ten hours a week,” Anderson said.

Beale’s still-pending ordinance would require Uber and Lyft drivers to get city chauffeur’s licenses, be fingerprinted by a city-approved vendor and get their vehicles inspected by City Hall.

A minimum of five 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.

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.

Emanuel is lobbying hard to bury Beale’s ordinance on grounds that it could kill competition that consumers have demanded.

But, Beale argued Friday that he has already compromised.

Uber and Lyft drivers would only be required to attend a one-day class to qualify for a limited chauffeur’s license. Cabdrivers have to attend a five-day class.

“If it’s good enough for the taxi industry, it should be good enough for them because they’re providing the same service,” he said.