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Cabbies Get 'Baby Step' Reforms From Council Committee

By Ted Cox | March 14, 2016 3:46pm
 Attorney Michael Shakman sued the city Thursday on behalf of taxi companies including Yellow Cab, saying ride-sharing services like Lyft (l.) should be subject to laws licensing traditional cabs.
Attorney Michael Shakman sued the city Thursday on behalf of taxi companies including Yellow Cab, saying ride-sharing services like Lyft (l.) should be subject to laws licensing traditional cabs.
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Justin Sullivan/Scott Olson

CITY HALL — A City Council committee approved a package of what one taxi backer called "baby step" reforms Monday, while rejecting more restrictive measures on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee, called it "another baby step in the right direction." Beale, who last week won passage of a surcharge on credit cards used to pay cab fares, argued in favor of a small package of taxi reforms advanced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Business Affairs Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek.

That proposal, which trimmed minimum fines for cabbies, and lowered license costs for pedicabs and drivers of horse-drawn carriages, hit snags in the License Committee last week. Lapacek amended it Monday to include a 60-day grace period for cabbies caught driving with an expired chauffeur's license, and other small-scale reforms.

 Ald. Tom Tunney advised Ald. John Arena to bring his proposal calling for ride-hailing drivers to get chauffeur's licenses to the full City Council.
Ald. Tom Tunney advised Ald. John Arena to bring his proposal calling for ride-hailing drivers to get chauffeur's licenses to the full City Council.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Yet a bid by Ald. John Arena (45th) and the Progressive Reform Caucus to go further, calling for ride-hailing drivers to also get chauffeur's licenses, failed to be accepted by the committee, although it could resurface at Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Arena was joined by Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), David Moore (17th), Christopher Taliaferro (29th), and Michael Scott (24th) in voting to accept Arena's proposal, but it failed by a vote of 6-5.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) advised Arena to present it to the full City Council Wednesday "for the basis of a full-length discussion," and Arena considered that, perhaps with Beale joining that effort as well.

"We're gonna push to get this addressed," Arena said after Monday's meeting.

Mara Georges, spokeswoman for the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, urged the council to "comprehensively reform" regulations on taxis and ride-hailing firms like Uber and Lyft. She called for aldermen to "level the playing field" and "make the rules the same for people who are providing the same service."

Tracy Abman, associate director of the Cab Drivers United union, testified that taxi medallions, once valued at about $350,000 with 45 transferred in an average month before Uber arrived in Chicago, had seen just one sold, at a cost of under $100,000, over the last six months.

Bill Burns, a cabbie in Chicago since 1974, testified that ride-hailing services were "a cancer that's been introduced, and it continues to spread."

The mayor's more humble set of reforms advanced to Wednesday's City Council meeting, where it may face new counterproposals from Arena or Beale.

Lapacek said she did not support chauffeur's licenses for ride-hailing drivers, and she clashed openly with Arena. After Arena asked Lapacek last week for detailed data on taxi citations and airport rides divided between cabs and ride hailing, saying he'd submitted a letter on that, Lapacek referred Monday to "your letter that no one's ever received."

"She is hostile," Arena said. "And her bias is showing."

Arena said was mulling his options. "This is the venue where it's supposed to happen," he said of the License Committee. "The council floor is where we're dealing with resolutions and everything else."

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