Chicago aldermen move to shackle rideshare drivers with licensing scheme

Chicago aldermen move to shackle rideshare drivers with licensing scheme

As companies such as Uber fight to bring driving jobs to underserved neighborhoods, City Council wants to require expensive licensing in exchange for access to customers at airports.

Chicago aldermen are looking to block out drivers for services such as Uber and Lyft just as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed to end the city’s ban on airport pickups for those drivers.

Aldermen have already added the nation’s highest taxes on ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2016 budget proposal. But a plan introduced by Alderman John Arena on Oct. 21 would deal an even bigger blow to drivers for those services.

Arena’s proposal would require all rideshare drivers picking up customers at airports, McCormick Place and Navy Pier to obtain chauffer’s licenses from the city.

That might not seem like an industry-killing move at first sight, but a cheap and efficient sign-up process for new drivers is a major reason why Uber and Lyft are able to provide millions of safe, inexpensive rides to Chicagoans every month.

The $500 it costs to obtain a chauffeur’s license would be a huge burden on drivers, who are often Chicagoans in serious need of work and income. That’s money that could go to pay for groceries, gas bills and diapers. Drivers would also have to spend the time and effort it takes to navigate a cumbersome city permitting process that takes weeks.

Public demand prompted Emanuel to finally propose allowing rideshare pickups at O’Hare and Midway airports, as well as McCormick Place and Navy Pier. But Arena’s plan would crush the hopes of drivers planning to serve high customer demand at those locations. Uber announced Oct. 22 that due to the chilling effect of a chauffer’s license requirement, it would not be able to invest in software to facilitate airport pickups in Chicago, as it has in other cities, such as Indianapolis and San Francisco.

Longtime Chicago Alderman Ed Burke argues the proposal is about safety.

“It’s a homeland security issue. When they’re that close to a sensitive facility, there ought to be an assurance that they have passed a background check,” said Burke, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

But U.S. Army veteran and 72-year-old Chicago Uber driver Jim Evans thinks differently.

“Perhaps a military checkpoint on the Kennedy [Expressway] would be more to his liking,” Evans said. As the Sun-Times pointed out, Uber drivers already drop off 140,000 passengers at O’Hare and Midway airports each month.

“It’s supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And you can’t get more ‘of the people’ than Uber. I just don’t know what Burke’s doing. There has to be some other reason [for his proposal].”

One reason could be that traditional taxi companies want a return on their investment. Burke is the chair of the city’s Finance Committee, where the amendment now sits, and “Friends of Edward M. Burke” took $10,000 in campaign contributions from the owners of Dispatch Taxi last year.

Evans says he already holds a chauffer’s license, but that it would be “very tough” for many drivers to obtain one.

“It’s time and money,” he said.

“Most people who drive for Uber drive temporarily for extra income, and to go through all the hassle for that, it’s ridiculous. It’s money for getting fingerprints taken, going to the doctor and the classes. And the reality of it is, I don’t think that it will affect security in any way.”

Burke also argued the city could generate millions of dollars from the licensing scheme. But as the Chicago Tribune points out, the city makes just $15 for every $500 chauffeur’s license issued.

So if 10,000 drivers chose to bite the bullet and obtain chauffer’s licenses, the city would bring in a measly $150,000.

All in exchange for what? Less money in the pockets of those Chicagoans trying to balance their families’ budgets through honest work, while long taxi lines remain the norm at Chicago’s airports.

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