It’s about the money, honey.
Uber drivers in Chicago earned $210 million from January to August of this year, according to data the company released last week.
There are more than 30,000 active drivers in Chicago, and 55 percent of those drivers live in neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides.
The company reports that 44 percent of all Uber ride-sharing trips either start or end in those same communities.
That’s massive earning and buying power for people who drive part and full-time for Uber. The power to buy a condo, pay the rent, cover tuition, get groceries and, perhaps, rise out of poverty.
In communities that have been economic disaster areas for most of my lifetime, the ride-sharing companies are changing livelihoods — and lives.
I was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, and learned early in life that in those African-American neighborhoods, taxi service is a myth. Call a cab, and the surly dispatcher replies, “45 minutes to an hour.” An hour later, he tells you the same.
Now Uber gets me to family gatherings, business meetings. It gets my elderly mother home, safe and sound, by day and night.
Ride-sharing has obliterated the humiliation of hailing while black. And “we” are making the money.
One South Sider is not impressed. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) told Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman that the Uber statistics would not affect his plan to rein in surge pricing and require ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted.
“This has nothing to do with money. This has everything to do with public safety,” added Beale, whose ward includes the Roseland neighborhood.
Of course, it’s about money. As Spielman notes, the alderman is a “champion” of Uber’s competition, the dying taxi industry. He has received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the taxi lobby.
Of course, safety is a concern. Beale and other critics blast ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, insisting they don’t do enough to assure safety.
Beale has pushed for a city ordinance requiring that drivers be fingerprinted and subjected to FBI criminal background checks.
The companies respond that they already screen drivers, and that the FBI checks discriminate against minorities falsely accused of minor, non-violent offenses.
Both sides should get to the table and compromise.
Meanwhile, money talks. Uber exclusively provided me with a ward-by-ward breakdown of drivers’ earnings between Jan. 2 and Aug. 28, 2017.
Uber cash is flooding into neighborhoods that suffer the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the city.
In Beale’s 9th Ward, 912 drivers earned $3.6 million in the period.
In the 20th Ward, which includes Woodlawn, Englewood, and Greater Grand Crossing, 694 drivers earned $3.2 million.
On the West Side’s 29th Ward, 908 drivers pulled in $4.2 million.
In North Lawndale and Douglas Park, 24th ward drivers earned nearly $2.8 million.
The highest number of Uber drivers — 2,006 — live in the 50th Ward. They earned an amazing $18 million. Traditionally, that Far North Side neighborhood has been home to many taxi drivers. A conversion is underway.
Uber’s data is so astounding, it invites skepticism. But it’s the company’s proprietary information.
The company will begin sharing its ward driver data with Chicago aldermen early next week, I am told.
Now, that’s a conversation starter.
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