CHICAGO — There are almost 12 times as many cars cleared to be used for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft as there are active taxi licenses in the city of Chicago.
Through Oct. 22, the city had on record 156,661 tax emblems, which correspond to a specific driver and car for companies that pick up rides using smartphone apps (like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar), according to data from a Freedom of Information Act request.
By comparison, there are 12,955 active taxi chauffeur licenses in Chicago.
Of course, not all 156,661 tax emblems represent active Uber and Lyft drivers — some of those records may apply to drivers who drive multiple cars or have never picked up a ride in Chicago — it does signal how tens of thousands of Chicagoans have considered it as a way to make some money.
"I realize that people sign up to be a driver, [but will only drive] a short time or infrequently, but this really is an enormous number," said Sharon Feigon, executive director of the Chicago-based Shared-Use Mobility Center. "I think a lot of people see this as an easy-to-do, part-time kind of job."
About 87 percent of the city's emblems are registered by Uber, though Brooke Anderson, Uber's local spokeswoman, said that figure "doesn't reflect our actual business," given some might never have driven for the company.
"The best way to calculate how many people are driving with Uber these days is by looking at those who are using it on a monthly basis, which in Chicago is nearly 35,000," Anderson said.
Lyft officials said its "active drivers" are in the thousands in Chicago.
Before passage of a city ordinance in 2014, ride-hailing companies didn't have to register their drivers in Chicago.
Now companies are required to pay up to $25,000 for an annual license and are charged $25 for each set of driver and car who will work under the platform.
The companies must follow guidelines to get drivers registered with the city, but the overall responsibility for vetting each driver remains with the companies.
Each company has its own protocol — Lyft officials say they meet in person with each driver before approval while Uber doesn't — but it usually doesn't take long for most people to be cleared for the work.
The process still draws the ire of the taxi industry, whose officials complain of unequal regulations for them and ride-hailing companies.
Ride-hailing app "licenses in Chicago both cost less and lack the same safety protections required with obtaining a chauffeur’s license," said Mara Georges, spokeswoman for the taxi-centric Illinois Transportation Trade Association.
But for drivers, the ease of becoming a Lyft or Uber driver and the freedom that comes with it is enticing.
"They have a job and say, 'I can go out Friday night, pick up some rides and make some extra money,'" Feigon said.
Three months ago, 27-year-old Juliano Alameida left a corporate job in the suburbs and moved to the city to launch a startup. Now a Wicker Park resident, Alameida drives both for Uber and Lyft, rarely more than 20 hours a week and never in conflict with his role at his company.
"This was a good way to pay the bills while we get our startup going," Alameida said. "It's what's needed right now. It doesn't burn many brain cells to do this."
Based on the experiences of people like Alameida, the number of people considering driving for these platforms is likely to grow.
Alameida has since recruited two other people, including his brother, to drive.
Officials at Uber and Lyft both note that their service allows drivers to make money with little time investment. About 50 percent of Uber's active drivers use the app for less than 10 hours a week, according to company officials.
"Lyft presents extra income on the side," Lyft's Chicago general manager David Katcher said.
The ZIP codes of the drivers in the city's database aren't publicly available, but officials at both Lyft and Uber say they have been active in recruiting drivers on the South and West sides.
Uber Chicago officials say that at least 20 percent of drivers for UberX, the company's best known and cheapest service, hail from those parts of the city.
"There are drivers from everywhere, every part of the city and suburbs," Katcher said. "It's amazing how [ride-hailing] has taken a hold of the city."
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