Mayor Rahm Emanuel was accused Tuesday of rushing through rules that will allow ride-hailing services to cash in on the Thanksgiving travel rush while failing to deliver promised reforms to assist struggling cabdrivers.
During the heated mayoral campaign that culminated in Emanuel’s runoff victory, he pushed through a “Taxi Fairness” ordinance aimed at putting more money in the pockets of struggling cabdrivers without raising fares.
Emanuel subsequently gave cabdrivers a 15 percent fare increase as a consolation for losing their last bastion of exclusivity at Chicago airports.
But many of the promised reforms have gone nowhere. They include: reducing credit card fees; a citywide taxi app like the one pioneered by Uber; and a cut of potentially lucrative advertising revenues for cabdrivers.
On Tuesday, a union representing cabdrivers accused the mayor of dragging his feet while racing through airport rules that stand to benefit Uber, whose investors include Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, the mayor’s brother.
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“The City Council passed the so-called Taxi Fairness Ordinance in December 2014, yet now — nearly a year later — the Emanuel administration and the [Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] commissioner have failed to implement several of its key provisions,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Cabdrivers lose 5% of every fare to fees when paid with a credit card; the ordinance cut this amount to 3% but the change has not yet been made.The ordinance required that drivers receive a portion of revenue from in-cab advertising, but this provision has likewise not been implemented. And the ordinance called for the creation of a city-sponsored, universal taxi app, but no bidder has been selected and the app is seemingly stuck in limbo,” Lindall wrote.
He further noted that the city has “failed to act” on the May 2015 report by of “its own Taxi Fairness Task Force” recommending “specific rule changes to benefit both drivers and the public.” In fact, City Hall has now delayed the next scheduled meeting of that task force — previously set for Wednesday — until Nov. 18. That’s after the close of public comment on its new airport rules.
Last week, Uber, Sidecar and Lyft came out the big winners after Emanuel forged a compromise to salvage his plan to give the ride-hailing services the lucrative right to make airport pickups without requiring their drivers to get chauffeur licenses.
Instead of making chauffeur licenses a precondition for making airport pickups, as aldermen have demanded, Emanuel agreed to study the idea and charge the burgeoning industry 2 cents more per ride in the meantime, for a total fee of 52 cents.
At least some of the money would be used to help cabdrivers defray the cost of obtaining a chauffeur license, a hoop through which they alone still have to jump.
The break would provide cabbies with $50 toward the cost of fingperprinting and background checks; $25 toward biannual drug tests and $50 toward the cost of the two-week training course they are required to take at Olive-Harvey College.
Chauffeur license fees would also be reduced, from $15 to $5 and from $8 to $5 for a renewal.
Instead of mandating city training, Emanuel agreed to let ride-hailing companies train their own drivers servicing O’Hare and Midway Airports after checking to make certain they have a valid driver’s license and no outstanding debts to the city.
Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has issued rules “governing the display, design and contents of additional distinctive signs or emblems that may be required to be displayed” on ride-hailing vehicles used to make pickups at O’Hare, Midway, McCormick Place and Navy Pier. Additional “distinctive signs or emblems” must also be provided to their drivers, the compromise states.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said then that Emanuel was counting on generating $30 million in fees by giving ride-hailing companies the keys to the airport kingdom.
And the mayor was not about to jeopardize that windfall by requiring ride-hailing drivers serving O’Hare and Midway Airports to get a chauffeur license.
“This was the mayor’s proposal. He baked it into the revenue for the city. And they’re very concerned about making sure they meet those revenue goals,” Arena said.