Voters will be asked if they support taxi fare hike

SHARE Voters will be asked if they support taxi fare hike

Chicagoans who go to the polls March 18 will be asked whether they want to raise taxicab fares for the first time since 2005.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, made sure of that Tuesday when he introduced a resolution placing the non-binding referendum on the ballot.

“The taxicab guys are constantly asking for an increase. They’re constantly circulating petitions asking for a hearing. I thought this was a good way to put it before the voters to see whether they’re willing to absorb an increase for the taxicab industry,” Beale said Tuesday.

“There’s no dollar amount on it. This is just an opportunity to give the people a voice.”

Does Beale honestly believe Chicagoans struggling to make ends meet will jump at the chance to put another financial burden on their own plates?

“There’s always a first,” he said.

“If it’s overwhelmingly in support [of an increase], we’ll move forward. If it’s close, we’ll look at it. And even if it’s denied, we’ll look at it. It’s just an opportunity to give the people a voice.”

Chicago cab fares have been frozen since an 11.7 percent increase imposed by the City Council in 2005. The last increase before that—16.6 percent—was approved in 2000 and tied to a controversial requirement that cabdrivers answer at least one radio call each day in underserved communities.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s landmark taxicab reforms raised the lease rates drivers pay—by as much as 31 percent for the most fuel-efficient vehicles—while cabbies claim they walked away virtually empty-handed.

The mayor’s only concession to drivers was to make the $1 fuel surcharge permanent and to fold it into the cost of entering a cab, known as the “flag pull.”

Several times in recent years and months, drivers have attempted to press their case for higher fares by organizing a taxicab strike in Chicago.

But, almost all of those strike threats have fizzled as cabbies who function as independent contractors and routinely work 13-hour-days are reluctant to leave the street for even a few hours for fear of losing money.

More recently, the Emanuel administration has authorized a $76,359 consulting study of taxicab fares and driver income that, Beale and top mayoral aides have said, could be a prelude to a fare hike.

The cab fare question was one of referendums introduced Tuesday to tie up the three allotted ballot positions so nobody else can for more provocative questions like, say, asking voters whether they would support an elected school board.

The other questions—proposed by Aldermen Jim Balcer (11th) and Edward Burke (14th)—ask voters whether the Il. General Assembly should ban hi-capacity magazines of more than 15-rounds-a-clip and whether the gun owners should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in restaurants.

At Burke’s behest, the City Council approved an end-around the state’s new concealed carry law last fall—by requiring Chicago restaurants that serve liquor to ban firearms or risk losing their city licenses.

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