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Lightfoot wants to abolish city stickers, increase ride-hailing fees

Chicago mayoral candidates are nearly united in promising to bring equity to an overly punitive ticketing policy that has unfairly targeted minority motorists and forced thousands of them into bankruptcy.

Lori Lightfoot is upping the ante with a promise to abolish the city sticker — along with the city clerk’s office that sells them — and replace the revenue with dramatically higher fees on ride-hailing vehicles.

“We should get rid of city stickers. … People hate the city stickers. … We spend so much money trying to collect and police the city sticker program, we are losing money — not gaining money through the city sticker program,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday.

“We’re fighting people. The debt has gone up exponentially. But we’re not collecting the kind of resources that we need to . … The fact that people are losing their jobs, being driven into bankruptcy, losing their driver’s licenses over non-moving violations like city stickers and parking fines — that’s absurd. We can’t keep balancing the budget of the city on the backs of people least able to shoulder that burden.”

Last year, the city sold 1.23 million city stickers and generated $128 million for the repair and maintenance of city streets. Late fees and penalties added another $6.9 million, down from $9.2 million in 2016.

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City stickers cost $87.82 for vehicles with a “curb weight” of up to 4,500 pounds and $139.48 for SUVs, trucks and other large vehicles weighing at least 4,501 pounds.

Lightfoot said she would replace that money — at a time when Chicago is facing a looming, $1 billion spike in pension payments — with sharply higher fees on ride-hailing vehicles and strict new limits on the number of Uber, Lyft and Via vehicles.

“We’re becoming Los Angeles or Atlanta or Dallas. There’s no rush hour anymore. It’s perpetual. … We have tens of thousands of new cars on the roads … because of ride-share. They’re … [driven by] people who don’t even live in Chicago. In many instances, people don’t even live in Illinois,” Lightfoot said.

“You have to more closely regulate how many cars can be on the road. And frankly for people from outside Chicago and outside Illinois, you’ve got to look at some of the things New York is doing about requiring a license in Illinois at a minimum. And then, we’ve got to levy much higher fees against ride-share.”

Uber has long claimed that roughly half of its Chicago drivers live on the city’s South and West sides.

To offset the CTA’s ridership losses to ride-hailing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel persuaded the City Council to impose a new ride-hailing fee that started at 15-cents-a-ride in 2018 and rose a nickel this year.

Lightfoot said that’s nowhere near enough. She refused to say precisely what it should be. But rest assured that if Lightfoot is elected mayor, the fee will be going way up.

Emanuel, whose brother is an Uber investor, has long been accused of tilting the regulatory playing field in a way that has allowed the ride-hailing giant to decimate the taxicab industry.

The courts have rejected that assertion, but Lightfoot didn’t. She argued that Emanuel has been “patently unfair to the taxicab industry,” making taxicab medallions “basically worthless.”

“People are going out of business after they’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on a medallion they can’t even give away. The imbalance between what the taxis have to go through, the regulatory hoops they have to jump through as compared to ride-share, [is] not even in the same universe of fairness,” she said.

“When you regulate it more aggressively, you’re gonna see fewer cars on the road. … I understand this is a source of income for folks. But we have to do it in a way that is properly regulated so we are not adding exponentially to pollution and we’re not damaging our roads without having a source of income to offset that. And right now, it’s a free-for-all.”

Last fall, City Clerk Anna Valencia persuaded the City Council to create a four-month city sticker, restore a 15-day grace period, offer a monthlong amnesty and re-examine “exorbitant” penalties to ease the burden on 500,000 delinquent motorists.

The appointed clerk now facing her first run for elective office has been under fire for presiding over an overly punitive city sticker enforcement system that has driven thousands of motorists into bankruptcy.