Requiring ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted is not the only way to guarantee public safety, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday, even after Lyft acknowledged that one of its drivers had a federal conviction for aiding terrorism.
One day after City Hall released a long-awaited study that dodged the fingerprinting controversy, Emanuel remained open to new technologies that, Uber and Lyft have argued, could be used to screen drivers without fingerprinting.
“It’s not about fingerprinting, yes or no…The question is, what does it take to make sure that there’s safety. That’s the end point,” said Emanuel, whose brother is an Uber investor.
“There’s facial recognition technology. There’s bio-metric technology that can relate to safety. It’s not about one tool. It’s about the goal of safety and what tools you then use to achieve that goal. There’s new technologies coming on. And we’re gonna work through with the industries — both ride share and taxis — how to best achieve that.”
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno has 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.
That’s not good enough for Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.
Beale has vowed to resurrect the stalled fingerprinting requirement, despite a threat by Uber and Lyft to abandon the 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.
“If we were fingerprinting, this person would have gotten flagged,” Beale told Escareno during budget hearings last week.
On Tuesday, Beale ridiculed the long-stalled study that was supposed to determine whether or not a fingerprinting requirement was necessary.
Instead, the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed the monthly citation and arrest records of cabdrivers who are already fingerprinted, and ride-hailing drivers who are not.
“The study was not worth the paper that it was printed on,” Beale said.
“I was hoping the study would give us clarity on whether we need to do fingerprinting or not….But the study didn’t address anything. The study was…the biggest waste of time. I guess that’s why they didn’t want to release it. They knew it was ridiculous.”
Beale was asked whether he views the study as a stalling tactic.
“I don’t know. You need to ask [Emanuel] that. I’m just disappointed we have wasted eighteen months,” he said.
Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 noted that, in the time it took to complete the six-page report, “The number of medallion foreclosures is up to 933 while 766 medallions have been surrendered.”
“During this ongoing crisis, the city has done nothing to equalize the exorbitant license fees and taxes that taxis pay, while rideshare corporations like Uber and Lyft skate by,” the union said.
To keep a shrinking taxicab industry from disappearing, the union wants the City Council to: eliminate the vehicle age limit so long as the cab can pass inspection; waive the ground transportation tax for struggling drivers; and eliminate the medallion license renewal fee.
The union is further demanding that City Hall: “Enact protections for lease drivers in the event of a fleet bankruptcy; reinstate the lottery for city-owned medallions to reduce operating costs for lease drivers; strengthen foreclosure protections in the city medallion owner rules; and eliminate “regulatory barriers” standing in the way of a “driver-to-passenger taxi ehail app” that competes with Uber and Lyft.
Uber, Lyft and Via have also demanded regulatory relief.
Escareno has said the study “analyzing driver behaviors and public safety outcomes” would be “one piece of our work with both” industries.
The goal is to “identify and achieve reforms that allow both industries to enhance safety while continuing to modernize with changing consumer behavior and expand the pool of available, qualified drivers,” the commissioner said.
License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) said the study demonstrates that “consumer safety outcomes are similar,” whether the criminal background check process is “biometric or non-biometric.”
“As long as strong criminal background processes are followed, they keep taxi and rideshare consumers safe,” Mitts was quoted as saying in a statement released by the mayor’s office.