Latest cab medallion sale shows need for relief, cabbies’ union says

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The latest auction of once-coveted taxi medallions — needed to operate a cab in Chicago — brought prices far below what it once would have. | Sun-Times file photo

A union representing struggling Chicago cab drivers pointed to results of this week’s auction of taxicab medallions as proof that cabbies need relief.

Five of the 32 medallions — once valued at $360,000 before the city’s two-tiered regulatory process ushered in the ride-hailing era — were auctioned Wednesday for far less, with prices ranging from $44,000 to $45,000 apiece, officials said.

The remaining 27 medallions were acquired by Capital One, the original lender on loans that had been used to purchase the medallions.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2500 — representing hundreds of cabdrivers — called the auction results a “prime example” of how city regulations governing medallions “strip drivers of due process rights” that cover “other types of foreclosure proceedings.”

“Instead of going through the regular foreclosure process which provides both parties due process, the city has set up a system where a lender can auction off one’s property out from under them,” said the union’s spokesman, David Kreisman.

“The city should fix these rules so drivers have justice and their property isn’t taken away from them until their day in court. The city needs to help protect their investment in these medallions. We enjoy due process in this country. These regulations strip people of their due process. We’re looking at this medallion crisis and they are not doing anything to provide drivers any sort of assistance.”

Cab drivers say they need relief from unfair competition from ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. |  File photo

Cab drivers say they need relief from unfair competition from ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. | File photo

Lilia Chacon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said city officials “remain committed to having open dialogue with the industry, including exploring reforms to further reduce the regulations on taxis.”

“While taxi medallions are privately held and all transactions take place in marketplace and the city is not party to those transactions, we are open to bringing the industry together — drivers and owners to find common ground to improve the taxi industry,” Chacon wrote, pointing to a previously approved an 80 percent reduction in the medallion transfer tax.

Specifically, the union wants the City Council to: eliminate the vehicle age limit so long as the cab can pass inspection; waive the ground transportation tax for struggling drivers; and eliminate the medallion license renewal fee.

The union is further demanding that City Hall: “enact protections for lease drivers in the event of a fleet bankruptcy; reinstate the lottery for city-owned medallions to reduce operating costs for lease drivers; strengthen foreclosure protections in the city medallion owner rules and eliminate “regulatory barriers” standing in the way of a “driver-to-passenger taxi ehail app” that would compete with Uber and Lyft.

Last month, ASCME released a study showing taxis are fighting a losing battle against Uber and Lyft, with 40 percent of all medallions “inactive.”

The report showed that 774 medallions have been “surrendered to the city at some point,” with 579 more receiving foreclosure notices and 107 lawsuits filed since October.

It also showed that 2,940 taxis — that’s about 42 percent of the city’s 6,999 taxi medallions — were classified as “inactive” in March after having failed to pick up a single passenger in the previous month.

That means those licenses face “imminent foreclosure in the coming months,” the study says. In March 2014, 16 percent of medallions were inactive.

More than 227,000 ride-hailing vehicles were registered to operate in Chicago as of April, compared to 6,999 taxi medallions, the study showed.

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