Lightfoot shoots down Uber’s latest offer as a ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘distraction’

Confident she has the votes in the full City Council, the mayor says she’s forging ahead with her own $40 million plan and vowing it’s “an initial step — not the final step.”

SHARE Lightfoot shoots down Uber’s latest offer as a ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘distraction’
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference where she touted Uber’s new offices at the Old Post Office.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaking at a news conference in September, when Uber touted its expansion plans at the Old Post Office.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday shot down Uber’s latest alternative to her $40 million congestion fee, calling it a “Hail Mary” and a “distraction” by the ride-hailing giant that will do nothing to ease the downtown traffic nightmare.

Uber claims its latest alternative would generate $10 million more than the mayor’s version. If the plan falls short, the money-losing behemoth whose investors include former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother is offering to make up the difference.

Lightfoot was not impressed. She’s sticking to her plan, confident she has the votes for it.

“This is another kind of Hail Mary pass on the part of Uber. It doesn’t involve either of the other two ride-share companies. And it’s telling that it comes after months of engagement with them. It comes the day before the vote,” by the Finance Committee, the mayor said.

“I view this as a distraction and an attempt to divert attention from the focus that … we need to have on fixing and addressing really a significant congestion in the downtown area that’s driven, in large part, by the enormous increase in ride share rides that are happening every single day downtown.”

The mayor said she feels “very confident in the model and structure” she has proposed. It’s “absolutely an initial step — not a final step” and there’s a lot more where that came from, pending a broader study about “overall congestion and traffic” in Chicago, she added.

“Three paragraphs in an email isn’t really a good-faith proposal. So we’re gonna keep moving forward,” Lightfoot said.

Uber’s latest plan calls for a $2.75 surcharge on solo riders in the downtown area and 75-cents-a-trip for shared rides in the central business district.

For off-hour trips or trips that “do not touch the downtown core,” Uber has suggested $1 more for solo rides and 50-cents for shared rides.

“We are confident that the fee structure above would result in at least $50 million in additional revenue for the city. … If the city has any concerns with that estimate, we suggest a mechanism by which rideshare companies would be responsible to pay for any shortfall,” Josh Gold, Uber’s regional policy chief, wrote in an email to this week to the mayor’s chief of staff Maurice Classen.

“Additionally, I want to reiterate that we stand ready to work with you on re-purposing the curb to prioritize bus & bike users and reducing curb dwell time through dedicated, enforced pick up & drop zones for” ride hailing.

Tuesday’s exchange between the mayor and Uber was downright civil, compared to the bitter and accusatory tone between the two sides last week.

That’s when Lightfoot accused Uber of offering black ministers a $54 million “payoff” to kill her $40 million congestion fee, only to soften it to the term “investments” when she came under fire from Uber and ministers alike. No matter which term is used, Uber maintains no such offer was made.

Lightfoot’s plan calls for a new “downtown zone surcharge” that amounts to $1.75 per-trip for single rides and 60 cents-per-trip for shared rides.

The surcharge would apply to weekday rides from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, when congestion is worst. That would raise the total fee for solo trips in the downtown zone from 72 cents per ride to $3.

The downtown zone would stretch from North Avenue to Roosevelt Road and from Lake Shore Drive to a jagged western boundary that includes the North Branch Canal from North to Grand Avenue; Ashland Avenue from Grand to Van Buren Street; and Desplaines Street from Van Buren to Roosevelt.

The plan also calls for increasing the ground transportation tax to $1.13 on all solo ride-hailing trips citywide — an 88% hike— and reducing the ground transportation tax to 53 cents on shared ride-hailing trips citywide. That’s a drop of 11.6%.

The current ground transportation tax is 60 cents per trip citywide and $5 per trip to and from McCormick Place, Navy Pier and O’Hare and Midway airports.

Together, the changes are expected to generate $40 million for the city’s deficit-laden 2020 budget.

The mayor plans to dedicate $2 million for investments in seven “Bus Priority Zones” on the South and West Sides. The remaining $38 million would be used to chip away at the city’s $838 million shortfall.

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