Uber, Lyft threaten to leave Chicago
Chicago City Council is one vote away from enacting punishing rules that could force the popular platforms out of the Windy City.
A Chicago City Council committee on June 17 approved regulations for ridesharing that would likely end the service as residents know it – and quite possibly drive Uber and Lyft out of town.
The proposed ordinance requires rideshare drivers, who already undergo company-required background checks, to submit to city-overseen fingerprinting and vehicle inspections and acquire a chauffeur’s license. Uber and Lyft warned aldermen that passing the ordinance would force them to cease operations in Chicago. The full City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance as early as June 22, mere weeks after the ridesharing platforms shut down in Austin, Texas, due to similar restrictions.
Beyond providing millions of safe rides for residents, the services have provided job opportunities for many Chicagoans struggling in a stagnant Chicago economy.
A father’s fight
Lamar Stovall is just one Chicagoan whose life has changed for the better because of ridesharing.
Last fall, Stovall worked his last day at the Chicago Park District. The father of five was frustrated with the politics of his job. And he wanted more flexibility to be with his kids.
He found that flexibility in Uber.
Stovall was already familiar with ridesharing, even taking Uber to work most days. In fact, it was his only way of getting safe, reliable transportation in the West Side neighborhood of North Lawndale, where Stovall was born and raised.
“Cabs won’t come out here,” he said. “There’s always an excuse.”
More than half of UberX rides begin or end in underserved areas of the city.
Uber helped Stovall finance a new car – now he works half of the week as an Uber driver, and the other half as a driver through Grubhub, a restaurant-locating and -delivery service. He’s making double what he did at the park district.
“I can catch up on bills and stuff and make life better for my kids,” Stovall said. “I’m in a position where we can stop using food stamps, which I couldn’t imagine before this job … I’m trying to move to the suburbs so my kids can go out and play.”
Stovall is troubled by what new licensing rules could do to ridesharing in Chicago. His concerns are echoed by 72-year-old Chicago Uber driver Jim Evans.
“It’s time and money,” said Evans of the proposed licensing process. While he already holds a chauffeur’s license, Evans thinks it would be “very tough” for many drivers to obtain one.
“To go through all the hassle for that, it’s ridiculous,” Evans said.
But it’s not just drivers concerned about new rules. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the sponsor of the ordinance, Alderman Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, on June 2.
“Requiring fingerprint-based background checks for non-law enforcement purposes can have a discriminatory impact on communities of color,” Holder wrote.
According to Holder, the FBI’s fingerprint database “was not designed to be used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for a work opportunity. Relying on it for that purpose is both unwise and unfair.”
So why are aldermen throwing their support behind new rideshare restrictions?
Perhaps it’s because they need to deliver a return on an investment.
More than a dozen aldermen took a total of $51,500 from the Illinois Transportation Trade Association Political Action Committee in 2015, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. The PAC’s purpose is to “garner support for the Illinois taxicab industry.” It donated an additional $10,000 to the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.
The major supporters of the Illinois Transportation Trade Association PAC include companies that make money off of the traditional taxi system, such as medallion brokers and Yellow Cab, which have combined to give the PAC more than $300,000 since 2014, according to the PAC’s quarterly financial reports.
Alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward, who supported a similar licensing proposal in October 2015, took $10,000 from the PAC in 2015. The previous year, Burke took $10,000 from the owners of Dispatch Taxi. Allegations that Burke has given preferential treatment to the taxi industry for his own benefit stretch back decades.
“It’s supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” Evans said. “And you can’t get more ‘of the people’ than Uber.”
Stovall, who in addition to providing for his family is working to pay off student loans, thinks there’s a disconnect between the city’s political leaders and those they represent.
“These companies are helping out people in my neighborhood, helping people better themselves.” Stovall said. “[Aldermen] don’t understand that.”