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Taxis, Ride Sharing Head for Collision in Council Committees

By Ted Cox | February 21, 2014 7:34am
 Competing proposals in the City Council pit ride-sharing services like Lyft against conventional taxis.
Competing proposals in the City Council pit ride-sharing services like Lyft against conventional taxis.
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Justin Sullivan/Scott Olson

CITY HALL — Competing pieces of legislation on taxis and ride-sharing services head for City Council committees next week, and it doesn't look as if there's any chance they'll be splitting the fare.

Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Anthony Beale (9th) have co-sponsored a resolution calling for the city to crack down on so-called ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, and impose own city existing laws on taxis upon them as well.

Burke is chairman of the Finance Committee, while Beale heads the Transportation Committee, and they've scheduled a joint meeting Monday to address the issue.

Yet Mayor Rahm Emanuel has submitted an ordinance that would create a separate "transportation network provider license." That was co-sponsored by Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the License Committee, which has a meeting set for Wednesday.

An alderman could conceivably vote for the city to enforce its laws, and then vote to alter those laws, but otherwise there's little middle ground between the two.

It reflects the divide between conventional taxis and upstart ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Taxi companies and cab drivers joined in filing a federal suit earlier this month — not against the ride-share companies, but against the city — likewise arguing that the city should enforce its existing laws on the ride-sharing services.

Uber and Lyft have responded to the pressure by rallying users, with Lyft co-founder John Zimmer saying: "The voice of the people who live here is really important. I know it's important to politicians everywhere, so we're confident that we're going to be able to make something happen that works for this community."

"We think it's great that we're having a conversation," Andrew Macdonald, Uber's regional vice president in Chicago, said Thursday. He added the firm is supportive of the mayor's proposal where it seeks to increase consumer safety and choice.

"Our platform only works if riders feel safe," he said.

Yet Macdonald said Uber rejected "protective practices" designed for "protecting the status quo," such as limiting where Uber can pick up riders and forcing it to share data.

Macdonald said Uber is still weighing whether to take an active role in Monday's hearing. Angela Benander, a spokeswoman for the local cab firms, said the taxi industry will have a representative at the hearing.

"The taxi industry supports Burke and Beale's resolution and opposes the city's ordinance," she said.

Citing public support, Emanuel has been receptive to the new businesses and has said, "We have it just about right, as both [sides] are upset." He has promised "a good, healthy discussion" on the issue.

The mayor's proposal would call on the upstart agencies to screen drivers, make sure of insurance and pay a $25,000 fee for each company doing business as a "transportation network provider," along with charging $25 for each driver.

Burke and Beale have pointed out that's an unfair bargain compared with the $360,000 the city has been citing as an opening bid for a taxi medallion, and they charge that it threatens to undercut the $24 million the city takes in annually from taxis.