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Emanuel defends record on delivering taxicab reforms

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he had consumer choice in mind when he rushed through rules that will allow ride-hailing services to cash in on the Thanksgiving travel rush while failing to deliver promised reforms to struggling cabdrivers.

During the heated campaign that culminated in his runoff victory, Emanuel pushed through a “Taxi Fairness” ordinance aimed at putting more money in the pockets of struggling cabdrivers without raising fares.

The mayor subsequently gave cabdrivers a 15 percent fare increase as a consolation for losing their last bastion of exclusivity at Chicago airports.

But, many of the promised reforms have gone nowhere. They include, reducing credit card fees, a citywide taxi app like the one pioneered by Uber, and giving cabdrivers a cut of potentially lucrative advertising revenues.

Earlier this week, a union representing cabdrivers accused Emanuel of once again favoring Uber, whose investors include Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, the mayor’s brother.

On Thursday, the mayor fired back.

“My focus is not about the industry. My focus is on the customer. They have competitive, high-quality choices today. And we wanted to make sure, given all of the travel that’s going to happen this Thanksgiving, that we are prepared as a city,” the mayor said.

Emanuel pointed to his 2012 taxi reforms that updated rules and regulations governing Chicago’s taxicab industry for the first time in 20 years.

“We’ve got to start the clock where the clock starts. That’s why about 70 percent of the taxis now have hybrids and other types of advantages they didn’t have before and experiences for the customer. We’ve made a lot of reforms that have been delivered,” the mayor said.

“As it relates to the 2014 reforms, we’ve put a lot of those into place. The one area that we have to work with the industry on, which would be novel and new and it takes time, is the taxi industry app. That said, if you come to Chicago you want to take a taxi, it’s going to be there. If you want to take a ride share — Uber or Lyft — it will be there. What will be novel is, we’ll be able to make sure that people are not standing in line at O’Hare and Midway.”

The mayor’s office later provided a list of taxi reforms promised during Emanuel’s re-election campaign that have been implemented.

They include: reducing lease rate caps; extending to seven years the time that fuel-efficient vehicles can remain on the streets and reducing maximum fines against cabdrivers from $1,000 to $400.

City Hall further noted that credit card fees imposed on cabbies will drop — from 4 percent to 3 percent — on Jan. 1.

And cabbies are about to get a cut of exterior advertising revenues to the tune of: 50 cents for a 12-hour lease; $1 for 24 hours; $3.50 for a weekly 12-hour lease and $7 for a weekly 24-hour lease.

The mayor defended his four-year record in delivering taxi reforms as Uber prepared to launch a new carpooling service in Chicago.

UberPool would essentially operate like a jitney cab. It would allow several riders headed in the same direction on a well-traveled corridor — say southbound on Michigan Avenue — to share a ride and, therefore, reduce their fares.

The service is already available in other major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D. C., Paris, Shanghai and in Uber’s hometown of San Francisco. Uber claims the carpooling service is already covered by the city’s existing ride-hailing ordinance and would not require any additional city approval.

Also on Thursday, Emanuel ruled out the possibility of auctioning off WYCC-Channel 20 to the highest bidder, even though the sale could potentially raise as much as $474 million for the financially-strapped Chicago City Colleges.

“Why would you auction something off for financial gain when our students are making huge educational gains learning at the station,” Emanuel said at a news conference at Malcolm X College called to announce that five more colleges were sweetening the pot for Chicago Star Scholars.

“If you wear green eye shades [as an accountant], you would look at it as a financial asset. We’re in the business of education. We’re in the business of building careers. . . . You can look at it as an accountant and financial gain or you can see it as a tremendous educational opportunity that enriches our students and prepares them for a future, a job and a career. And to be honest, that’s our bottom line.”

Already this year, City Colleges students have wracked up 2,800  ”production hours” at WYCC.

The station broadcasts a mix of instructional, informational and educational programs around the clock, with a full- time staff of 37 and an annual budget of $5.2 million.

WYCC is located in the impoverished Englewood community and is thought to be the largest minority-controlled public broadcasting station in the country in a network that includes over 300 stations.