City Council approves crackdown on ride-hailing impersonators

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to add vehicle impoundment to the penalties for impersonating a ride-hailing driver.

SHARE City Council approves crackdown on ride-hailing impersonators
Uber and Lyft are two ride-hailing companies that operate in Chicago.

The City Council approved a minimum $10,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail against anyone posing as a driver for Uber, Lyft or Via. The maximum fine would be $20,000 for each offense.

AP file

Spurred by a rash of recent attacks on intoxicated passengers, the City Council agreed Wednesday to crack down on those who impersonate ride-hailing drivers as its sponsor moved to make those penalties even tougher.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to strengthen his just-approved ordinance by empowering police to impound the vehicles used by ride-hailing impersonators.

“That was a request the police department made during our committee hearing...The one component they wanted to see added was the option of impounding vehicles. I thought that sounded like a good idea. So we’re adding it with this trailer ordinance,” Reilly said.

Even without vehicle impoundment, the ordinance approved Wednesday is pretty tough. It imposes a minimum, $10,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail against anyone posing as a driver for Uber, Lyft or Via. The maximum fine would be $20,000 for each offense.

To underscore the seriousness of the problem, Reilly pointed to an incident that occurred during NBA All-Star weekend.

Three women from Wisconsin came downtown in an SUV pretending to be driving a ride-share vehicle. They picked up and robbed someone who, Reilly said, “didn’t know what car he was getting into.”  

Police “witnessed” the robbery. A high-speed chase ensued. And the victim was thrown out of a moving vehicle and had to be hospitalized with serious injuries, the alderman said.

“They knew these folks were trolling for drunk patrons. They saw them working the neighborhood. But they had to wait for a crime to be committed to act. This allows them to be proactive and stop it from even occurring,” Reilly said.

Also on Wednesday, the City Council:

• Authorized nearly $12 million worth of settlements tied to allegations of police abuse. One of the four settlements attracted 15 dissenting votes from police allies.

• Signed off on a third round of ethics reforms since Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. This time, the ordinance would close a legal loophole that has allowed city employees with contract management oversight to moonlight for private companies that work as sub-contractors to prime contractors.

• Allowed Lightfoot to make former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s share-the-wealth Neighborhood Opportunity Fund her own with reforms tailor-made to fuel her plan to bring “transformative change” to ten South and West Side neighborhoods.

The changes pave the way for businesses to recoup 100% of a project’s total price tag, provided they are owned and staffed by local residents.

Entrepreneurs will have access to lending coaches, design professionals, construction advisers and program “concierges” to put them on a “path to success.”

And instead of making grants annually, grants will be awarded twice-a-year. Applications within the ten neighborhoods included in the mayor’s “Invest South/West” program will get top priority.

• Let the Sunday brunch crowd start drinking an hour earlier — at 9 a.m. — to let restaurants and bars cash in on the popularity of European soccer, with games televised in Chicago during the early morning hours.

• Relaxed the city’s rigid license renewal regulations to benefit a taxicab industry decimated by the precipitous growth of ride-hailing. The ordinance championed by Lightfoot eliminates the “domino effect” that occurs by prohibiting owners of multiple taxicab medallions from any of their licenses if even one of their medallions had been revoked in the last five years.

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