After a false start last month and a threatened do-over, the City Council’s champion for the taxicab industry on Wednesday backed off from his threat to require ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted and stop surge-pricing by Uber and Lyft.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) held both measures in the Transportation Committee he chairs pending behind-the-scenes negotiations on a comprehensive package that could level a regulatory playing field that, he claims, is still tilted in favor of Uber and Lyft.
Beale said there is “new technology” he can’t discuss that could make fingerprinting unnecessary.
And he acknowledged what the Chicago Sun-Times has been reporting for the last week: That there is behind-the-scenes talk of raising two types of fees imposed on the ride-hailing industry to help reduce the city’s $259 million budget shortfall.
“We need to go for an increase … We are going into budget season and there are a lot of talks about how we’re gonna generate revenue. Everything is on the table,” Beale said.
Referring to Uber and Lyft, Beale said, “I’m saying the industry could potentially have an increase and…that should go to the industry who’s making billions and they shouldn’t pass it along to the riders.”
Uber, whose investors include Emanuel’s brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, said ride-hailing is “a growing part of our city and its future and we welcome any conversation with the city to ensure these benefits continue.”
Lyft spokesman Scott Coriell said company officials “look forward to working with the city to support ridesharing and the many benefits” it provides.
Beale has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the taxicab industry. He has categorically denied returning the favor with his on-again, off-again campaign to fingerprint ride-hailing drivers.
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.
Until now, Beale has portrayed fingerprinting as pivotal to riders’ safety.
Two years ago, Emanuel gave cabdrivers a 15-percent fare increase but handed ride-hailing companies the lucrative right to make pickups at O’Hare and Midway Airports, McCormick Place and Navy Pier.
In return for eliminating the last bastion of exclusivity for Chicago taxicabs, Uber and Lyft were required to pay the city $5 for every pick-up and drop-off at those four prime locations.
Instead of making chauffeur’s licenses a condition for making airport pickups, as aldermen had demanded, Emanuel agreed to study the idea and charge the ride-hailing industry 2 cents more per ride in the meantime — for a total fee of 52 cents.
Emanuel is mulling increases in both of those fees, Beale said.
“If you look at the taxicab industry and ride share, there still is not equality as far as what they’re paying. … The medallions, the background checks, the chauffeur’s license, the routine maintenance checks. There’s a lot of things [cabs] have to incur that Uber and Lyft don’t,” Beale said.
“If we need to try to level that playing field in this manner in order to bring more revenue in, we have to look at that.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Emanuel is laying the groundwork to raise taxes and fees on Uber and Lyft — by claiming phenomenal growth in the ride-hailing industry has cost Chicago taxpayers more than $40 million in lost revenue from other sources.
Beale said his goal is to negotiate a comprehensive package addressing a host of issues pertaining to ride-hailing and cabs and also produce sorely-needed revenue for the city.
“I would love to put this baby to bed once and for all,” Beale said. “Let’s do it right, do it once and be done with it.”
Cab Drivers United AFSCME Local 2500 noted that every taxi medallion owner pays $1,940-per-year in taxes and fees. Uber and Lyft, by contrast, “pay no ground transportation tax other than an annual, $10,000 license fee that allows them to put an unlimited number of vehicles” on Chicago streets, the union said.
“Revenue from taxis is now dropping sharply because the number of taxis being surrendered and in foreclosure is skyrocketing” to 2,000, the union said in an emailed statement.
“The city should establish a modest fee on all for-hire vehicles….That would…recoup lost revenue—and together with extending vehicle age limits, strengthening foreclosure protections and eliminating regulatory barriers to an effective e-hail app — provide taxi operators relief they desperately need.”