Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti on Thursday accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of favoring a ride-sharing giant whose investors include the mayor’s brother — by passing weak regulations and failing to tighten them, even after two sexual attacks on Uber X passengers.
Fioretti plans to introduce a resolution at next week’s City Council meeting that could pave the way for aldermen to take the matter out of Emanuel’s hands.
It calls for City Council hearings on the “business and employment practices” of companies licensed by the city to be “transportation network providers” to determine ways to correct glaring weaknesses in the mayor’s two-tiered ride-sharing ordinance that, Fioretti claims, put riders in danger.
Uber has not yet been issued a city license. Yet, the Emanuel administration has allowed the company to continue to operate on the streets of Chicago while its application is still pending.
That’s even after two Uber X drivers have been accused in roughly the last two weeks of sexually assaulting the passengers they picked up and drove in their own vehicles.
On Thursday, Fioretti accused the mayor of political favoritism, pointing to the conflict posed by Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel’s investment in Uber.
Rahm Emanuel flatly denied the political favoritism charge after pushing through a ride-sharing ordinance that the taxicab industry maintains, perpetuates a double-standard that has allowed ride-sharing companies to siphon away cab business.
But the latest alleged attack by an Uber X driver gave the alderman new ammunition.
“Not to be licensed? Not to be regulated in a fair way? It’s a very suspicious undertaking. All the rushes we do to get legislation through, yet we can’t protect the public? Something is wrong here. There’s more than favoritism,” Fioretti said.
“This should have been dealt with immediately. People should not get in cars without background checks and insurance. The mayor has a conflict of interest with his brother’s interest in the company. We need to take it out of mayoral hands and put it back into the City Council’s hands.”
The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on Fioretti’s favoritism charge.
Mika Stambaugh, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the city is “close to finalizing a licensing process with Uber” and has “prioritized screening and security procedures that meets our standards.”
“Uber will not be licensed until we are comfortable that they are in compliance with those standards and are confident that riders are safe,” Stambaugh wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Pressed on what is taking so long, Stambaugh said, “When there is a new, emerging business starting up operations in Chicago, we give them time to ensure that they are compliant with regulations and to get their processes in order. Uber is aware that their time is running out and they need to become compliant if they want to operate here.”
Fioretti wasn’t the only alderman demanding that the ride-sharing ordinance be made tougher.
So did Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee. In fact, Beale said he’s already spoken to the mayor, and Emanuel agrees that stricter regulation is needed.
“If this keeps happening, evidently there’s a loophole and we need to tighten that loophole. We need to make sure they’re not policing themselves at the expense of public safety,” Beale said.
“If we need to amend the ordinance, we’ll amend the ordinance. We’re trying to get our arms around this new industry. But the fact that we’ve had two situations in a very short period of time is very troubling. It’s very troubling that we have a company that’s still able to operate without a license and having these types of problems. I’m not gonna say there’s favoritism. But I’ve talked to the mayor. He said if there needs to be changes, he’s committed to that.”
Beale went so far as to advise Chicago residents and employees to steer clear of Uber X until the ride-sharing ordinance is fixed.
“I would not use them. I’m just not comfortable with where we are now. Proceed with caution until we get these things straightened out,” Beale said.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th), one of the taxicab industry’s staunchest City Council supporters, essentially said, “I told you so” after the latest attack.
“That’s something we pointed out a long time ago. That there has to be a sufficient background check for drivers of these vehicles that doesn’t exist right now,” Burke said.
“I don’t know that the state law that was just signed into law by [former] Gov. Quinn addresses those.”
Uber Regional General Manager Andrew Macdonald could not be reached for comment. Uber took some corrective action after the attack late last year.
The mayor’s current ordinance does not regulate ride-sharing fares or “surge-pricing” and does not restrict the number of companies, vehicles or drivers that could operate on Chicago streets.
It also creates a two-tier system that allows part-time drivers to escape rigid screening. And it opens the door to the lucrative airport market that Uber X once tried to enter illegally, only to be stopped by the city.
Ride-sharing companies would be prohibited from picking up street hails or riders at McCormick Place, O’Hare and Midway airports “unless the commissioner determines, in duly promulgated rules, following consultation with the commissioner of aviation, that such pickups can be accomplished in a manner that preserves security, public safety and the orderly flow of traffic; and . . . designated taxicab stands or loading zones.”
Former Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed an earlier version of a statewide ride-sharing bill.
But in one of his last acts before leaving office, Quinn signed a compromise plan that imposes insurance requirements and calls for criminal background checks for drivers. That includes a mandatory cross-check of Illinois’ list of registered sex offenders.