THE LOOP — Taxi supporters are out to override a veto of state bills restricting ride-sharing services.
In a news conference at the Thompson Center Tuesday, state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Chicago) said he'd try to call a vote this week in the General Assembly in a new attempt to impose a "uniform, statewide approach to protect consumers" from what he sees as the unregulated ride-sharing industry and a "confusing and costly patchwork of local regulations."
The city passed a more moderate ordinance in May and on Tuesday announced that Lyft and Sidecar, another rideshare company, are now officially covered under those rules. Uber's application for the designation is pending, according to a city spokeswoman.
Zalewski's bills would set stricter standards for the insurance ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft must carry, as well as for background checks, drug tests and chauffeur's licenses for their drivers, and it would not allow even home-rule cities like Chicago to enact anything less restrictive.
That's one reason Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bills in August after they had cleared the General Assembly in Springfield in June.
The taxi industry supported the state law while opposing the city ordinance sponsored by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"The public safety is at risk," Zalewski insisted, adding that he sought a situation where "the market is competitive, but fair." He said, "It makes sense to have a basic set of bottom-line regulations."
"It provides critical transportation protection for thousands of riders and drivers throughout Illinois," said Will McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois. He added that the bills also set standards for "surge pricing" to prevent ride-sharing companies from soaking riders with higher rates at peak periods.
Jeffrey Junkas, spokesman for the Property Casualty Insurers of America and the Illinois Insurance Association, said the added insurance requirements are necessary because "personal insurance policies do not cover commercial activity." So ride-sharing drivers need more extensive policies paid for by the company to guard against what he called an "insurance gap."
Cab proponents have also insisted that ride sharing undercuts the value of taxi medallions, which some drivers have invested as much as $360,000 in. They have fought for what they call an "level playing field" with ride sharing.
The Emanuel administration immediately lashed back.
"Chicago has worked with industry stakeholders and aldermen to pass sensible regulations that support innovation in this industry while ensuring the safety of passengers," mayoral spokeswoman Libby Langsdorf said. "With a balanced approach already approved by the City Council, this legislation would interfere with the city’s regulations, reduce transit options for Chicago residents and kill jobs.
"Between those costs and the higher costs that will be passed onto consumers should this bill succeed, the mayor supports Gov. Quinn's veto."
Ride-sharing firms likewise said they'd fight the override.
"We’re actively involved in the dialogue," Uber's Chicago General Manager Chris Taylor said. "It's a bad bill for the people of Illinois. These decisions should be made at the local, municipal level."
Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson noted that Lyft has broadened access to transportation, especially in areas that don’t have many options. She said that broad state regulations will hamper transportation options at a local level, adding that "63 percent of Lyft rides begin and end in underserved neighborhoods" and that "access to transportation has improved” with ride sharing.
Zalewski said his colleagues in the General Assembly are "having good conversations" about the override attempt, but he granted that some Republican support might have peeled off since Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner came out in favor of the veto during his campaign against Quinn.
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