Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld announced her resignation Wednesday, her final weeks marked by making Lyft the exclusive operator of Chicago’s Divvy bike-sharing system and giving the green light to an electric scooter pilot.
Scheinfeld’s resignation after five years as transportation commissioner and three years before at the CTA gives Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot a free hand to chart a new course on transportation issues.
Lightfoot has promised to level a playing field she believes is tilted in favor of ride-hailing at the expense of a dying taxicab industry by imposing dramatically higher ride hailing fees, a possible cap on ride-hailing licenses and, perhaps, a ban on out-of-state licenses.
Lightfoot has accused Uber and Lyft of flooding the streets with ride-hailing vehicles, particularly in the downtown area, exacerbating congestion.
“After eight years of working in senior roles for the Emanuel administration, first at CTA and then at CDOT, I have decided to step down at the end of the Mayor’s term,” Scheinfeld was quoted as saying in a statement.
The outgoing commissioner thanked Mayor Rahm Emanuel for affording her the “honor” to work alongside “so many great professionals to make transformative investments” to Chicago’s transportation system.
“I thank Mayor Emanuel for giving me the opportunity to lead CDOT for more than five years, and for having such bold vision for modernizing transportation in Chicago. I thank the members of the City Council for their support and partnership. I also thank the dedicated and talented men and women of CDOT who have worked so hard to implement the Mayor’s vision,” she said.
“Together, we have set Chicago on the right course to continue to thrive in the 21st Century with a safer and more sustainable transportation system.”
The Scheinfeld regime will be best known for its efforts to improve pedestrian safety through an ambitious “Vision Zero” program and by promoting the use of red-light and speed cameras now targeted for reduction by Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.
In late December, Scheinfeld argued that mayoral candidates promising to shut down Chicago’s red light and speed cameras were making a “cheap” and uninformed political play that would likely result in the death of even more pedestrians.
“It’s a cheap political thing … It’s an easy kind of reflexive thing. But that’s coming from an uninformed perspective,” Scheinfeld told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“A lot of people have sort of a knee-jerk reaction to them and aren’t actually familiarizing themselves with the facts. Speed cameras, red light cameras are proven to improve safety … This is saving lives today.”
Red light and speed cameras are a political piñata.
Motorists despise them because they churn out $100 tickets in a process that has, at times, denied them due process.
Politicians currying favor with those motorists hate them, too. Which is why they were united in promising to yank them out without saying how the city will make up the tens of millions in annual revenue.
But Scheinfeld nevertheless threw up the political and governmental equivalent of a stop sign. She warned all of the candidates vying to replace her boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to beware of the potential safety ramifications.
“More people would die,” she said.
Scheinfeld was also a leading proponent of Emanuel’s failed plan to let visionary billionaire Elon Musk build an underground transit line to whisk air travelers from downtown to O’Hare Airport.
In the waning days of the Emanuel administration, Scheinfeld was the point person for the retiring mayor’s plan to make Lyft the exclusive operator of Chicago’s Divvy bike-sharing system — at least for the next nine years — under a revenue-sharing agreement approved by the City Council over the strenuous objections of arch-rival Uber.
Lightfoot expressed reservations about the agreement and the process by which Emanuel negotiated a deal that “seemingly came out of nowhere without proper vetting and transparency.”
She called the deal “precisely the style of governance that we have to move away from.” That’s even though Emanuel has rejected comparisons to the widely-despised parking meter deal.
That didn’t stop the City Council from approving the exclusive arrangement or Scheinfeld from defending the deal.
Just last week, Scheinfeld announced Chicago would embark on a four-month pilot program to test electric scooters outside the downtown area, with speeds capped at 15 mph, to identify safety issues and pinpoint ways to reduce “sidewalk clutter.”
The test will begin June 15 in a designated area of the West Side, unless Lightfoot pulls the plug.