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Uber, Taxis Clash Over Rides to Underserved Areas

By Ted Cox | March 6, 2014 1:27pm
 Ride-sharing services and taxi firms are arguing over who provides better service to "underserved" areas of the city.
Ride-sharing services and taxi firms are arguing over who provides better service to "underserved" areas of the city.
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Justin Sullivan/Scott Olson

DOWNTOWN — Conventional taxi companies and upstart ride-sharing services clashed this week over who's providing better service to so-called underserved areas of the city.

In a blog item posted by Uber Regional Vice President Andrew Macdonald, Uber claimed "four in 10 rides in Chicago start or end in underserved neighborhoods" and that an area's average income had no "meaningful relationship to Uber's level of service."

But Angela Benander, spokeswoman for the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, accused Uber of using fuzzy math.

Benander said Macdonald testified in court a year ago that "36 percent of Uber’s trips were initiated in underserved areas," suggesting that either he was using vague estimates now, or the service was rarely dropping riders in underserved areas.

Benander also said she wondered if Uber was using the city's definition of "underserved areas" as issued by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to chauffeurs. That area is basically anything north of Devon Avenue, west of Ashland Avenue between Devon and Grand Avenue, west of Halsted Street between Grand and Roosevelt Road, and and south of Roosevelt Road.

"Note that the city’s definition of 'underserved' would apply to many wealthy neighborhoods, including parts of the South Loop, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, Lincoln Square, Logan Square, Ravenswood and even Navy Pier," Benander said. "Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel lives in an 'underserved' neighborhood according to this definition."

Macdonald confirmed Thursday that Uber does use the city's definition in statistics on service to underserved areas.

Benander added that, as Uber uses a smartphone app to send rides that are then paid by credit card, many potential riders in poorer neighborhoods can't even request service, meaning there's no response time on requests that are never made.

Even Uber's data allowed that, while there's no "meaningful" difference in response times to rich and poor neighborhoods, there was a three-second quicker response for every $1,000 in the average household income of a neighborhood. Using the city's own data from the 2010 census, that would translate as an average difference of 4½ minutes in pickup times between River North ($106,000) and Bronzeville ($16,000).

Taxis are required to serve all areas of the city, and cab companies complain that ride-sharing services, or network transportation providers, don't face the same demands and can pick and choose their customers.

Benander also called on Uber to release details of its insurance coverage.

Insurance coverage and service to poorer neighborhoods have both been issues in the City Council in hearings on the issue. The Council moved Wednesday to officially subpoena the upstart firms to present their insurance policies.

The Illinois Transportation Trade Association joined last month in a suit filed against the city over what it said was preferential treatment for the upstart services.