Taxi Industry vs. Uber & Lyft

By Ken Hare

Chicago Defender Staff Writer

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Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward – L) Uber General Manager, Marco McCottry

Imagine a Chicago without Uber or Lyft. If Alderman Anthony Beale’s proposed changes to Chicago’s Public Chauffeur’s License ordinance passes, this scenario could come true.

This past May 25, Uber’s Chicago general manager, Marco McCottry, gave testimony before the City Council regarding the proposed changes and how they would affect ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, potentially disqualifying thousands of current Uber and Lyft drivers and limiting passenger options in Chicago.

Currently, Uber and Lyft boast of having thousands of drivers from the West and South Sides of Chicago registered on their platforms. Both companies put their drivers through a rigorous background check —  including a criminal check at the local, state and federal levels — and receive customer feedback on each driver after a trip is completed to spot potential problems drivers early.

Ninth Ward Alderman Beale, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sponsored the proposed changes, currently being supported by 32 Aldermen, including Southside 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell and Westside 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. Based on Illinois State Board Records, 13 aldermen accepted a total of $51,500 from the Illinois Transportation Trade Association’s Political Action Committee last year. The objective of the PAC is to “garner support for the Illinois taxicab industry.”

In a meeting with the Chicago Defender’s editorial board, Beale insisted that regulation is necessary “for the public’s safety.” “The truth has not been getting out,” he stated. “ . . .When we got to the point where we could bring Uber in under some type of umbrella, they were totally resistant to any government regulation. What company is opposed to any government regulations?

“They’re using our streets, they’re picking up people every single day.  And so I started taking a real good look at it and found out that people’s safety is at risk. Because you don’t know who you’re getting in the car with. You don’t know what these people are. Who they are. What their background is,” he stated. “Uber is basically policing themselves.”

Uber’s general manager, Marco McCottry, testified “Those regulations, which are in place today, require background checks, vehicle inspections, and extensive data reporting. For example, ridesharing rules require $1 million of commercial insurance coverage for riders and drivers during a trip, nearly 3 times the requirement for taxis. And unlike the laws in place for taxis today, the ridesharing requirements contain far more stringent disqualifying criteria based on the criminal history of individuals who sign up to drive. “

Safety Concerns Cited

Uber basically says trust us, Beale insists, and said he couldn’t sleep in good conscience knowing people who were getting into the cars could be at risk. This is what he says prompted him to look into these industries, thus spurring the changes to the Public Chauffeur’s License ordinance.

Admittedly, he says, “At the same time you have this industry, unregulated, and another industry that’s totally regulated and probably overregulated, which is the taxi cabs,” he said. “And how can we have both these companies co-exist in the city of Chicago?”

Alderman Beale says Uber launched a campaign saying he was trying to run them out of the city of Chicago. “I’ve never said that,” he claims. “I’m not opposed to Uber. I’m not opposed to technology. I’m opposed to having a two-tiered system in place.”

He suggests the city of Chicago has a responsibility to level the playing field before the federal courts step in and mandate changes. But critics say some of the changes he has proposed such as fingerprint checks and marijuana convictions in the past 5 years would disproportionately affect Black and brown drivers.

“What I’m proposing streamlines the whole process. You can get your background check, fingerprinting and license in one day.” If Uber wants to provide their background check to the city then the city will vet it, he says. When it comes to fingerprinting, if anything comes up within the past 5 years, the person will be flagged and examined closer to see if there was a conviction, he said, and left it at that.

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Former U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent Beale a letter, dated June 2, 2016, warning him of the negative consequences of his proposed fingerprinting requirement for “non-law enforcement purposes.” They are based on the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System, which even the FBI has acknowledged is incomplete and lacks information about the final outcomes of a significant percentage of cases. This can have a discriminatory impact on the communities of color, he asserts.

McCottry believes: “These rules will require potential drivers to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket before they even take their first trip, take mapping classes at a community college in an era of GPS, and undergo a licensing process, which, as shown in a recent White House report, can have a disproportionately negative impact on Black and Hispanic communities. Fingerprinting can unfairly discriminate against African-Americans, who in Chicago are arrested at six times [a] higher rate, but are often never actually convicted for these arrests.”

Beale said, “My whole argument is safety. Uber does not share their background checks with the city of Chicago. Are they background checking their people? We don’t know.”

The next vote on the proposed changes is June 22.  If you believe that having a choice is good for the consumer, then contact your alderman and let them know what ridesharing means to you.

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