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Aldermen pave regulatory road for low-speed, electric public passenger vehicles

The plan had been to create a permanent license category for up to 10 low-speed Tuk Tuk Chicago vehicles after a two-year experiment. But with conventions canceled and downtown hotels mostly empty, the emerging business permit will be extended.

Tuk Tuk Chicago’s all-electric vehicles are intended for short, low-speed trips.
Tuk Tuk Chicago’s all-electric vehicles are intended for short, low-speed trips.
Tuk Tuk Chicago

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to pave the regulatory road for low-speed, electric public passenger vehicles in Chicago breezed through a City Council committee Wednesday amid excitement about the possibilities for transportation-deprived neighborhoods.

Tuk Tuk Chicago already is authorized to operate up to 20, three-wheeled electric vehicles on city streets — at speeds no higher than 30 mph — under an “Emerging Business Permit” issued two years ago.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said the vehicles offer a “unique transportation option for residents and visitors, primarily operating as a shuttle privately-hired by hotels and the convention industry.”

Like liveries, all rides must be pre-arranged. Street-hailing is strictly prohibited.

The mayor’s original plan called for creating a permanent license category for up to 10 low-speed Tuk Tuk vehicles.

Escareno said there’s been a change in plans triggered by the coronavirus. Instead of issuing a permanent license, the emerging business permit will be extended.

”Tuk Tuk Chicago has proven to be a responsible small bus operator with a desire to transition to a permanent license, However, given the impact of COVID, allowing this small business an extension of the current [permit] is more appropriate so they can better introduce this transportation option to the city of Chicago,” Escareno told aldermen.

“By doing so, this small business can continue to test the concept pre- and post-COVID, bringing a new energy-efficient, low-speed vehicle as a unique transportation option in the geography where they are allowed to operate. Without this, the small business will not have another option but to shut its doors on October 30.”

Although the current permit authorizes “up to 20” vehicles, only 10 have operated over the last two years. With the stay-at-home shutdown, the number was reduced to six, Escareno said.

Although the Tuk Tuk experiment shrunk when convention business ground to a halt and hotels were left mostly empty, aldermen are still excited about the long-term possibilities.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said he was “fascinated” by the “amazing” concept. License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) said she hopes TukTuk “has the opportunity to be able to expand someday where you can, perhaps, have ’em in the neighborhoods.”

Deputy mayor appointed

Also on Wednesday, Lightfoot formally announced the appointment of Manny Perez as deputy mayor of intergovernmental affairs. Perez served as Lightfoot’s campaign manager. He replaces his boss, Samantha Fields, who was reassigned to the mayor’s office after getting engaged to Northwest Side Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th).

The mayor also announced the appointment of Martina Hone to the vacant job of chief engagement officer charged with reaching out to community leaders and making certain that their voices are reflected in city programs and policies.

Hone was born and raised in Chicago — living in Hyde Park, Chatham and Roseland. After 20 years as a congressional staffer and federal bureaucrat, she returned to Chicago to serve as chief equity officer for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

“Our commitment to grow our city and expand opportunity in communities that have experienced generational disinvestment demands that we draw from a diverse and dynamic set of voices and talents,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a press release.

“Manny and Tina are public servants who not only embody those values, but also bring incredible energy, deep experience and the vast institutional knowledge needed as we face a critical juncture in our city’s history and work to lay the foundation for our shared future.”