Aldermen move to protect ride-hailing, taxicab passengers
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Uber and Lyft — and the taxicab companies from whom those ride-hailing giants have siphoned business — would be required to make quarterly disclosures on drivers accused of sexual assault and other violent crimes against passengers, under a crackdown proposed Wednesday by a pair of influential aldermen.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) said they were spurred into action by what they called a “rash of violent incidents” involving Uber, Lyft and cab drivers.
Uber, whose investors include Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari, has scrambled to implement new safety measures to reassure skittish passengers. But those steps do not go nearly far enough to satisfy Burke.
“Taxi and ride share companies should have a duty to be transparent with the public about the violence perpetrated by their drivers against passengers,” Burke was quoted as saying in a press release.
“The city of Chicago must have a central database open to public scrutiny where we can be made aware of all such incident and learn the outcome of those cases.”
Beale noted that there is “no such” central clearinghouse, leaving riders and city officials alike with “no clear understanding of the prevalence of” violence against passengers.
“We need to know just how safe or unsafe our city’s transportation industry is so that we can take steps to address this issue,” said Beale, who has long favored fingerprinting for ride-hailing drivers, only to be repeatedly rebuffed by the Emanuel administration.
Last fall, Emanuel proposed surge pricing, older vehicles and other regulatory relief to save Chicago’s shrinking taxicab industry, but allowed ride-hailing drivers to escape fingerprinting.
The City Council approved the plan just weeks after City Hall demanded that Lyft replace its background checker, review all 27,000 of its drivers and conduct random audits with results shared with the city; those steps were taken after Lyft acknowledged that one of its drivers had a federal conviction for aiding terrorism.
In spite of that embarrassing oversight, the mayor’s plan dropped the fingerprinting proposal that had prompted a threat by Uber and Lyft to leave the Chicago market in favor of more rigid criminal background checks, quarterly spot-checks and audits.
Uber spokesperon Molly Spaeth said the company announced last week its commitment to publishing a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform.
But it will take time.
“We’ve met more than 80 women’s groups and are working with experts in the field to develop a taxonomy to categorize the incidents that are reported to us,” Spaeth said.
“We hope to open-source this methodology so we can encourage others in the ridesharing, transportation and travel industries, both private and public, to join us in taking this step.”
The ordinance proposed Wednesday –– but not introduced because the City Council meeting was cut short –– requires ride-hailing and cab companies to file quarterly reports with the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection that would be posted on the department’s website within 30 days.
Those quarterly reports would have to include the names of drivers accused of violence or sexual harassment against passengers, details of each complaint and the “outcome of the investigation” into those incidents.
The identity of victims would be withheld.
That would allow “legislators and peace officers to reallocate resources and assess policies as needed to ensure the safety of Chicago residents,” according to the preamble to the ordinance.
To underscore the need for passenger protections, the aldermen cited four recent cases of sexual assault of passengers in the last two years. Two of those incidents involved drivers for Uber and Lyft. Two other attacks involved cab drivers.
Also on Wednesday, Burke joined Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) in proposing that City Hall and other local government buildings provide private areas — with a “lockable door, a chair, table, electrical outlet, sink and running water,” if possible — where mothers can nurse their babies and change their children’s diapers.
The proposed mandate would take effect one year after City Council passage.
Burke’s legislative blitzkrieg also included a proposal to ban all flavored liquid nicotine products sold in Chicago on grounds that e-cigarettes and “nicotine pods” have become increasingly popular among young people.
An anti-smoking crusader whose father died of lung cancer, Burke said he was acting to fill the void because e-cigarettes are not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, e-cigarette manufacturers are not even required to apply to the FDA for review until 2022.
“City action is necessary to prevent a new generation of youth from becoming addicted to nicotine,” Burke said.