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Lyft Threatens To Bolt Chicago As Strict Licensing Rules Pass Council Panel

By Ted Cox | June 17, 2016 2:57pm | Updated on June 17, 2016 3:53pm
 Lyft and Uber drivers packed the City Council gallery but were reduced to spectators when an ordinance cleared a joint committee in record time. There was no testimony.
Lyft and Uber drivers packed the City Council gallery but were reduced to spectators when an ordinance cleared a joint committee in record time. There was no testimony.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers were reduced to spectators Friday as a key alderman rammed through a proposed ordinance calling for ride-hailing drivers to be licensed.

"I don't think we rammed this through," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee, after his joint meeting with the License Committee. "We had a four-hour, five-hour hearing the first time."

Even so, Beale basically called the committee to order, allowed aldermen to ask Business Affairs Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek a couple of questions and then recognized Ald. John Arena (45th) in a motion to pass.

It passed by a voice vote with no opposition and heads to the full City Council for final approval Wednesday.

Flummoxed Uber and Lyft drivers in blue and pink T-shirts who'd packed the City Council gallery filed out within 10 minutes of when the meeting started.

Lyft immediately threatened to end operations in Chicago.

"The ordinance passed today out of committee forces part-time Lyft drivers into an onerous, outdated model — requiring hundreds of dollars in fees just to share a seat in their car," said Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson. "It would make true ride sharing impossible. Because of this, we will be forced to cease operations in Chicago if this ordinance becomes law."

Beale dismissed those threats. "We are not trying to run anybody out of the City of Chicago," he said. "The Chicago market is very lucrative. It would be hard for them to turn away from the $3-$5 billion they're making out of the City of Chicago."

Beale, however, did say the ordinance might be tweaked on the way to the full Council.

"I feel good about where we are today," he said. "As you know, in this city, anything can happen between now and Wednesday."

Yet he rejected a proposed compromise from Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would have called for licenses only for ride-hailing drivers on the street 30 hours a week for eight straight weeks. Beale said that would apply to only about 5 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers.

"If we passed that ordinance, it wouldn't have any teeth," Beale said. "It wouldn't affect any of them, so that to me wasn't an option."

He denied he was at odds with the mayor.

"This is not a fight between me and the mayor. I work very close with the mayor. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. So we want to make sure we move forward to do the best thing for the entire city," Beale said.

Beale insisted the ordinance was for consumer protection in requiring ride-hailing drivers to get a chauffeur's license. They'll be required to submit fingerprints for identification in a background check, but even so Beale said drivers could obtain a license in a single day.

He also championed requirements that cars be able to handle wheelchairs.

"That's all this is about," Beale said. "This is about consumer protection as well as making sure the industry provides adequate transportation to the disabled community."

Arena endorsed that requirement, and his colleagues in the Progressive Reform Caucus lined up behind it as well. "The leading ride-share companies are huge, multimillion-dollar corporations that can certainly afford to find a way to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities,” he said. “As our economy evolves, it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that people with disabilities are not abandoned along the way. Uber, Lyft and other companies must step up to the plate."

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th) said the fingerprint checks were valid for ride-hailing drivers, just as for cabbies. "If Chicagoans are going to put themselves or their family members in the cars of strangers, they should be able to rest assured in knowing that driver has undergone a background check and that they will be safe as they travel," she said.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) called it "an abundantly reasonable proposal" and cited how it will also call on Uber, Lyft and their drivers to remain current on fees and fines owed to the city.

The Cab Drivers United union, the Illinois Transportation Trade Association and the Chicago Federation of Labor issued a joint statement cheering the measure, saying: "When passed, this common-sense ordinance will advance public safety, the basic rights of disabled Chicagoans and fairness, while still allowing customers to have choices in transportation."

Yet Lyft rallied opposition ahead of final passage. "We urge the City Council not to abandon the tens of thousands of drivers who depend upon ride sharing to make ends meet or the passengers who use Lyft to get a safe ride home," Wilson said. "We continue to believe there is a way forward that sets high safety standards, preserves consumer choice and secures the nearly $50 million in revenue that ride sharing brings to the city. People in Chicago have made it clear they want ride sharing. We hope their representatives on City Council are listening."

"We want to continue to work with everybody," Beale insisted. "I'm willing to work with anybody to help strengthen this ordinance."

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