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Weakened Uber, Lyft Ordinance Approved By Aldermen After Floor Fight

By Ted Cox | June 22, 2016 12:53pm
 Ride-hailing services like Lyft and cabbies were on opposite sides of the issue again Wednesday.
Ride-hailing services like Lyft and cabbies were on opposite sides of the issue again Wednesday.
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Justin Sullivan/Scott Olson

CITY HALL — The City Council approved a watered-down set of new regulations Wednesday for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, as aldermen railed against an 11th-hour version of the law submitted by the Emanuel administration only that morning.

"It is night and day from what passed" in the Transportation Committee, said Ald. John Arena (45th), who charged that Uber and Lyft had written the latest version submitted an hour before Wednesday's meeting.

Calling the latest version "almost completely different," Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) attempted to defer it a month through a parliamentary maneuver, but Ald. Edward Burke (14th) immediately moved to adjourn the meeting and pass the measure at the next meeting, which he planned to call on Friday.

 Ald. Scott Waguespack questions city lawyer Jeffrey Levine on a procedural matter during Wednesday's debate on ride hailing.
Ald. Scott Waguespack questions city lawyer Jeffrey Levine on a procedural matter during Wednesday's debate on ride hailing.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Aldermen with pressing business in the Council on Wednesday shouted against adjournment, and Waguespack withdrew his motion, while adding, "Rules shouldn't change when it benefits one party or the other."

"This is embarrassing," said Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) at one point as the Council teetered between business and adjournment.

The council went on to rubber-stamp the latest proposal by a vote of 36-12, as Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) dismissed criticism of the last-minute changes by saying, "We don't read a lot of things that come before us."

Arena pointed out the final version dropped calls for Uber and Lyft to provide wheelchair access. Instead, they'll be asked to submit "a plan to enhance service to customers with disabilities" within six months, according to a memo on key points of the final changes distributed to aldermen and then to reporters on press row in the City Council.

Arena drew parallels with Airbnb "reforms" which also passed Wednesday, saying, "It's letting corporations write our laws. ... We are letting them self-regulate." He said it was a emblematic of the "Wal-Mart economy."

"It seems like we're finding ourselves more and more in the middle between corporations and unions," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th). "I'm concerned about folks, the people in my ward," he added, and those who make extra income through ride hailing.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) agreed, adding, "Let's face the fact that our social environment is changing, our economy is changing."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended the new law and the rush to pass it, saying it emphasized "progress rather than putting off."

"Not everything is picture perfect," Emanuel said after the meeting. Comparing the City Council action to the legislative gridlock in Springfield and Washington, D.C., he said, "It may not be perfect, but it is progress."

Oddly enough, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee, said very much the same thing on the floor during the debate: "We don't want to turn into Springfield or Washington, D.C., where they have gridlock and nothing gets done."

Emanuel called an earlier version "an honest compromise" after demands for ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted were dropped. The taxi industry and cabbies were not appeased.

Beale pushed a hard-line measure through last week calling for ride-hailing drivers to obtain a restricted chauffeur's license, including a fingerprint background check, but he dropped that fingerprint provision this week.

Instead, the city will study whether fingerprinting makes sense over the next six months.

The Progressive Reform Caucus, including Waguespack, Arena and Sposato, issued a statement calling the whole process a "bait and switch."

Lyft and Uber had threatened the tougher law would force them to cease operations in Chicago.

Lyft cheered the weakened regulations, even as Cab Drivers United, the Illinois Transportation Trade Association and the Chicago Federation of Labor issued a joint statement saying: "The mayor’s strong-arm tactics to replace an ordinance that prioritized the disabled, public safety and full-time family-supporting jobs, with one that favors billionaires who openly lie to advance their cause, speaks volumes to where Mayor Emanuel’s loyalties lie."

That coalition called the new law "a slap in the face of disabled Chicagoans."

The Council still signed off on it Wednesday.

Aldermen eventually voted 36-12 to approve the proposal, but the key vote came on a motion to accept the substitute. That went 33-15, and aldermen voting against included Waguespack, Arena, Sposato, Leslie Hairston (5th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Toni Foulkes (16th), David Moore (17th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Christopher Taliaferro (29th), Milly Santiago (31st), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Harry Osterman (48th).

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