Emanuel says cab fare hike not needed, prefers to fix bureaucracy

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Chicago cabdrivers have been waiting nearly 10 years for a fare hike. Their wait will continue if Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his way — and not just until after the election.

One day after proposing ways to put more money into the pockets of struggling cabbies without raising fares, Emanuel made it clear that he has no intention of burdening Chicago consumers who already feel nickel-and-dimed to death.

“I don’t believe in raising fares on the consumer. I believe in finding reforms and efficiencies and doing the tough things that the bureaucracy used to impose costs on folks. That’s where the savings are,” the mayor said.

Instead of raising Chicago cab fares that currently rank No. 32 among big cities, Emanuel wants to create a centralized dispatch system using a “universal taxi smartphone application” akin to ride-sharing.

He also wants to cut lease rates, fines and credit card transaction fees that gobble up driver income.

Many of the ideas originated with the taxicab industry after hard-fought negotiations over a ride-sharing ordinance that, cabbies insist, does not go far enough to level the playing field that has siphoned away their business.

“In that process, the taxi industry brought up some ideas. So we sat down, rolled up our sleeves, put pencil to paper. We have found savings in the regulations and reforms that will go to their bottom line so they’ll make more money, improve competition city-wide so all consumers win. And did it without raising the fare,” Emanuel said.

“I consider that a win-win. That’s why we’re not gonna raise fares. We’re not gonna put the burden on the consumer when we can actually ask the bureaucracy to shape up.”

Two months ago, the United Taxidrivers Community Council now trying to unionize cabdrivers proposed a ten-point plan that includes raising mileage and waiting times by 25 percent.

Under that plan, the cost of entering a cab would have remained at $3.25. But the charge-per-mile would have gone up from $1.80 to $2.40, while the waiting time would go to 20 cents for every 24 seconds, instead of every 36 seconds.

Chicago’s $13.80-fare for a five-mile ride with five minutes of waiting time currently ranks No. 32 among the nation’s largest cities. The proposed change would have pushed Chicago into the top ten.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection, is listed as co-sponsor of the mayor’s latest round of taxicab reforms.

But Mitts has called the changes no substitute for a fare increase.

“They’ve been crying for years for an increase. I would like to see us get them that increase….It will come–after the election….We’ll get there,” Mitts said earlier this week.

Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th), has argued that the mayor’s plan could stop the bleeding caused by ride-sharing—and put big money back into the pockets of struggling cabdrivers—without impacting hard-pressed consumers.

“We will continue to monitor this and, if it’s not enough, we will look to increase fares,” Beale said. He added, “I’m not saying anything about after the election.”

For now, the change with the biggest potential to put more money in drivers’ pockets appears to be Emanuel’s promise to create a central dispatch system that includes all 7,000 Chicago cabs, instead of just a few hundred, using an Uber-style app.

That’ll make cabs more convenient for consumers, “more competitive” with ride-sharing and improve the quality of service to under-served neighborhoods, according to Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek.

The mayor has also promised to reduce lease rates that gobble up nearly 40 percent of driver revenue by 10-to-20 percent — or $2,400-to-$5,600 a year — and requiring a “lease credit” for all cabs bearing advertising.

UTCC Secretary-Treasurer Peter Ali Enger has argued that the lease rate reduction after the first model year will provide not a penny of relief for 2,000 cabbies who own their own medallions and cabs.

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