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Higher taxes would hurt those who really need ride-hailing

Ride-hailing has been manna from heaven for Chicagoans starved for decent transportation options.

A ride-hailing car displays Lyft and Uber stickers on its front windshield.
AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is the first Chicago mayor to embrace racial equity in decades. Yet her new proposal to hike taxes on ride-hailing companies could hurt those she aims to help.

The Rev. Walter Turner wants to take her to church.

“[Ride-hailing], since its inception, Laura, has been a true blessing in our communities,” he told me Friday.

The pastor of the New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church in South Shore is speaking out against Lightfoot’s ride-hailing “congestion tax.”

To put it biblically, ride-hailing has been manna from heaven for Chicagoans starved for decent transportation options.

Turner understands the city’s urgent need to bring in new revenue. “Mayor Lightfoot has done a great job trying to do what she can,” he said. “But don’t go back, go forward.”

Lightfoot’s plan would triple the city tax in the central part of the city for trips via ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

“Our [ride-hailing] proposal will bring in an additional $40 million to our budget, while also lowering vehicle emissions and encouraging the use of more efficient modes of transportation, such as public transit,” Lightfoot declared last month in her 2020 budget address.

Between 2015 and 2018 the annual number of shared ride trips in Chicago jumped by 271 percent, according to a report by the city of Chicago. Half of all trips citywide begin or end in the downtown area, while nearly a third of those trips both start and end downtown.

Those trips are assessed 72 cents per ride citywide. Under Lightfoot’s plan, that would drop to 65 cents for shared trips but increase to $1.25 for single riders.

During high-volume hours, single riders downtown would pay a whopping $3 per ride, and $1.25 a ride for shared trips.

Ride-hailing has been a lifeline for “single moms who didn’t have a way to get to the grocery store, the laundromat, to take their child to the doctor,” Turner argued.

Until ride-hailing arrived, it was virtually impossible to get a reliable, safe and courteous taxi ride on the city’s South and West sides. Hailing a taxi while black was a nonstarter.

“You and I know,” Turner said, “that cabs don’t run in our communities.” Also, “sometimes public transportation is unreliable.”

In violence-plagued neighborhoods, “sometimes the bus stop isn’t safe anymore.”

Turner has been meeting with other pastors across the city. They agree the congestion tax would hurt folks who rely on ride-hailing for basic transportation needs and income, he said.

Nearly half of all Uber drivers live on the South and West sides, according to data provided by Uber.

In the second quarter of 2019, nearly half of all rides originated or ended on the South and West sides. And in the past two years, the fastest growing community areas for Uber pickups have been in those areas.

In Austin, during the first half of this year, ride-hailing companies provided 600,000 pickups, compared with taxis, which picked up only 5,000 riders, Uber reports.

In wealthier areas such as Lincoln Park and the Near North Side, cars, public transportation and geography are far more accessible.

We know ride-hailing plays a role in downtown congestion, but it is not alone. Too many solo drivers add to the logjam. Too many trucks and other commercial vehicles clog the streets and block the bus stops.

Chicago ranks third in the nation for truck delays and congestion costs, according to the 2019 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Truck congestion has risen by 2,467,000 hours between 2007 and 2017, a 20 percent jump over the decade.

On Tuesday, Turner plans to attend a Chicago City Council hearing and urge Lightfoot to look at other strategies that won’t further burden his community.

“I am going to say it like I would say it on Sunday morning.”

Preach!

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