CITY HALL — A proposal to adopt minor reforms for cabbies, pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages got snarled Tuesday over the continuing battle between taxis and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, with one cabbie labeling them "ride-stealing" services.
Maria Guerra Lapacek, commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, presented what appeared to be a humble set of reforms to the City Council's License Committee. It gave cabbies a break in lowering the minimum fine for violations from $75 to $50, while allowing them three traffic violations a year rather than the current two.
It also cut the chauffeur's licenses for pedicabs and drivers of horse-drawn carriages from $25 to $5, bringing them in line with the chauffeur's license for taxi drivers.
"We're really trying to make the industry more attractive to people looking for work," she said.
Yet cabbies weren't buying it.
"It doesn't go far enough," said Peter Enger, of the United Taxidrivers Community Council. "It's just a small step, when we need several more huge steps."
Meg Lewis, of Cab Drivers United, said the taxi industry "is going to collapse" in the face of unbridled competition from Uber and Lyft. She testified that eight Chicago taxi medallions went into foreclosure in 2014, 94 in 2015 and 28 just in January this year. Taxi rides at O'Hare International Airport fell from 148,000 last January to 104,000 this January, she said, after Uber and Lyft were granted access to airports, McCormick Place and Navy Pier at the end of last year.
Mara Georges, spokeswoman for the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, representing the taxi industry, said 70 percent of medallion loans are currently in default, and that taxi medallions, once valued at a minimum bid of $360,000 in city auctions, had seen only one transferred in the last six months at a cost of $95,000. She said they had been "rendered worthless" and called on aldermen to "save the taxi industry."
Fayez Khozindar, chairman of the United Taxidrivers Community Council, called the reform package "a Band-Aid" and blamed "ride-stealing" services for the industry's woes.
"We're at a turning point," said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).
"I don't think we've been fair to taxicab drivers," said Ald. James Cappleman (46th). "I think that's very clear."
He marveled at the city setting limits on the number of pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages, but not Uber and Lyft drivers.
Ald. John Arena (45th) railed at Lapacek's failure to provide data on the ongoing competition between taxis and ride-hailing services.
"We're being lied to. Your department is not doing its job," Arena said. "We can't get answers to the questions we're asking."
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the License Committee, at first tried to rein Arena in and call for a vote. Yet after other aldermen piled on she agreed to a deferral.
"If this continues, we're gonna lose an industry," said Ald. Christopher Taliaferro (29th). "If we don't create something that's fair ... we're gonna run an industry out of business."
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) added that he didn't want to "see this continue in the direction it's going."
"It seems that we need to do a little more work," acknowledged Mitts, in holding the mayoral proposal in committee for additional reforms.
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