CITY HALL — The City Council approved a new license for ride-sharing firms Wednesday over fierce debate and a number of attempts to send it off course.
The ordinance to create a license for what Mayor Rahm Emanuel called "a new industry" passed by a vote of 34-10, but not until opponents made a couple of attempts to delay it.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee, asked the council to wait for statewide ride-sharing legislation to pass in Springfield with the General Assembly. That bill, seen as more favorable to conventional taxi firms, would allow local municipalities to be more strict on ride sharing, but not more liberal.
"This ordinance will hurt the hard-working men and women who are driving cabs every single day," Beale said, calling them "the ambassadors of this city."
He said upstart ride-sharing firms like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar are "making millions. They're not paying $360,000 for a [taxi] medallion. Medallions will be useless if this ordinance passes."
Beale's request to delay and wait for Springfield to act was moved to be tabled by Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the License Committee. The motion to table Beale's attempt passed, 36-9, as did another vote to table an attempt by Aldermen John Arena (45th) and Bob Fioretti (2nd) to amend the ordinance to take effect in 180 days rather than 90 days.
"It's been a delicate balancing act, and neither side is particularly happy, but I believe we've taken the right road," Mitts said.
Arena had previously moved to defer and publish the ordinance at the last council meeting and attempted to hold it until June 26, but Emanuel ruled the issue would be taken up Wednesday.
"This is not at the expense of the taxi industry," Emanuel said after the meeting. He said the ordinance "ensures safety" in "dealing with a new industry."
Arena argued against that position, saying it was about "consumer protection" and drawing attention to the gray area of who provides insurance, the driver or the ride-sharing firm. "This ordinance falls short on that," he said.
"This is not about the cab drivers. It's about medallion owners," countered Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), striking at the taxi industry. "Let Chicago pass our laws and not let Springfield pass our laws."
The 10 voting against passage were Arena, Fioretti, Beale, Pat Dowell (3rd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Lona Lane (18th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Michael Zalewski (23rd), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Nicholas Sposato (36th).
The ordinance creates a two-tiered ride-sharing license, with firms with drivers averaging more than 20 hours a week facing city inspections and a $25,000 fee, and those with drivers averaging less than 20 hours a week paying $10,000 and being largely self-inspected with city oversight.
"This ordinance misleads the public and shields ride-sharing companies from important consumer protections and public-safety obligations," said Mara Georges, a former city attorney who is a spokeswoman for the taxi industry. "Additionally, the ordinance sets up a scheme to allow full-time ride-share drivers to avoid police background checks through the use of ‘averaging’ all driver hours, instead of holding every individual driver accountable for their hours.
"The city should have waited until the state had finalized its ride-sharing legislation, which strikes the right balance between protecting Illinois consumers and promoting new transportation options by implementing important public-safety protections and closing the insurance gap between private and commercial insurance," she added.
Ride-sharing firms cheered the bill's passage.
"While the taxi industry spends time and money trying to intimidate lawmakers with political retribution to defend its track record of horrible customer service and taking advantage of its workforce, the ride-share industry will move forward under this framework to continue to improve Chicago's transportation system," said Andrew Macdonald, Uber's Midwest regional manager.
"Today's vote in support of ride sharing in Chicago is a welcome development and driven by the public's desire for safe and reliable transportation alternatives," added Angela Heuer, Lyft spokeswoman. She called on Gov. Pat Quinn to veto the state bill if it reaches his desk.