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Surge Pricing Crackdown Would Stop Crazy Fares During CTA Outages, Storms

By Heather Cherone | August 30, 2017 2:06pm | Updated on August 30, 2017 4:42pm
 City officials said the ride-share companies exploited a CTA emergency earlier this month.
City officials said the ride-share companies exploited a CTA emergency earlier this month.
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CITY HALL — Aldermen Wednesday endorsed a measure that would limit ride-share companies' ability to raise their prices during an emergency like the one that shut down Brown, Red and Purple lines during the morning rush hour on Aug. 15.

Authored by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and endorsed by the City Council Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, the measure would cap fares for companies like Uber or Lyft at 150 percent of the average price for a ride during the seven days before the "unforeseen emergency."

Emergencies include "any actual or threatened terrorist attack, mass shooting, major disruption in public transportation, failure or shortage of electric power and inclement weather,” according to the proposal, which now goes to the full City Council for consideration Sept. 6.

Thousands of Chicagoans had to scramble — and dig deep into their wallets — to get to work on the morning of Aug. 15 when authorities were forced to shut down the Brown, Red and Purple lines for about three hours after the discovery of a man's body on the tracks near the Belmont CTA station.

Officials believe the man killed himself.

Lyft and Uber surge prices shot up as riders scrambled to get off the trains, out of the packed stations and into ride shares.

There weren't enough drivers working, so the companies boosted rates to get more drivers out to pick up rides, the company said.

The result: eye-popping prices, such as $110 to get from Lakeview to the Loop. That trip could cost as little as $13 without surge pricing.

Lyft charged up to 6½ times more than normal. Uber was up at least 3½ times the normal fare, according to a rider.

City officials accused the companies of "choosing to take advantage" of the emergency.

Two days after the shutdown, Uber and Lyft agreed to refund the surge pricing cost to riders.

The proposed measure would also require ride-share drivers to be fingerprinted and photographed.

In a statement, Molly Spaeth, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company remained opposed to a requirement that their drivers be fingerprinted because it could have a "discriminatory impact" on members of "minority communities."

"We welcome a conversation with city leaders to establish protocols ensuring all public and private transportation providers communicate quickly and respond appropriately to these types of incidents impacting Chicago residents," Spaeth said.

Scott Coriell, a spokesman for Lyft, said Beale's ordinance was "disappointing and counterproductive."

"It does a disservice to the tens of thousands of drivers in Chicago who rely on services like Lyft to earn income and support their families, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans for whom ridesharing services are an integral part of their daily lives," Coriell said.

Beale, a frequent critic of Uber and Lyft, has long been pushing for more restrictions on the firms' operations, saying it was needed to protect the public.

The Sun-Times reported in March that a commission asked to study the issue by aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel was poised to recommend that the requirement not be implemented for ride-share drivers.

Uber and Lyft have opposed that requirement, and officials have said it could force the firms to stop operating in Chicago entirely.

In June 2016, the City Council required ride-share drivers to be licensed and ordered a commission to study the issue.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said her office hired researchers from the University of Illinois-Chicago to "to produce a study on the practices of fingerprinting and background checks to ensure any plan strikes the appropriate balance between access to transportation for consumers, jobs for drivers and the absolute need to ensure safety."

Uber and Lyft are working with members of the Emanuel administration "to develop standards to ensure nothing like that ever happens again," referring to the events of Aug. 15.

Ride Hailing Driver Ordinance by Heather Cherone on Scribd