CITY HALL — Ride-hailing firms like Uber and Lyft figure to raise a ruckus Wednesday over one alderman's call for them to "level the playing field" and operate under the "same regulations, same rules" as taxis.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee, holds a joint meeting with the License Committee on Wednesday over his proposal to require Uber and Lyft drivers to obtain chauffeur's licenses, just like cabbies.
"I'm not favoring one over the other," Beale said Tuesday at City Hall. "Same regulations, same rules. And then if the market takes care of itself, let the market take care of itself."
Beale said he is not out to protect the taxi industry, but "I'm making sure the industry survives, and they can survive together."
Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson begged to differ.
"I think the Lyft model is very different from a taxi model," she said of their business approaches. According to Wilson, the majority of Lyft drivers are part-time, and "80 percent drive 15 hours or less a week."
For that reason, she said, it doesn't make sense for Lyft or Uber drivers to invest an estimated $300, plus navigating red tape and a mandatory instruction course, to drive.
"When you place those burdens on drivers, part-time drivers just don't participate," Wilson said.
"We think the city benefits from having more affordable transportation options," she added. "We think the regulations we're currently operating under are working really well. That being said, we're looking to work with the alderman to move forward and allow us to continue operating in the city."
Beale maintains that the latest reforms approved by the Council in March constituted "baby steps" toward parity between cabs and ride-hailing services, and that "giant steps" were called for, including the chauffeur's license requirement.
In March, cabbies complained about being overrun by Uber and Lyft drivers and demanded steps to "level the playing field." As of late last year, there were almost 13,000 chauffeur's licenses in Chicago, but 150,000 cars signed up with Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.
Even so, Lyft has been conducting a radio ad blitz in Chicago recruiting even more drivers.
"We don't really have specific numbers [of drivers], for competitive reasons," Wilson said, but she acknowledged it was in the "thousands."
A sizable number of those drivers and ride-hailing passengers figure to be on hand at the committee meeting Wednesday, as will cabbies and representatives of the taxi industry.
Beale emphasized Wednesday's meeting would be a "subject-matter hearing" with no vote taken, but he nevertheless planned to keep his proposal on track for final passage by the City Council next month.
"I anticipate both sides having a lot of people here to testify," he said. "So we're gonna let them voice their concerns. Then we'll go back to the table to work some issues out. If we need to strengthen the ordinance, we will strengthen it, but there's no plan whatsoever to weaken the ordinance.
"There'll probably be another hearing in June, when we probably won't have as much testimony, maybe just a few key people," he added. "Then we'll tweak it and pass it in June."
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