Let me call you a cab. An expression that at one time was commonplace may become a relic of the past if current trends continue– thanks to the presence of rideshare companies that may have changed the way Chicagoans get around the Windy City forever.
The rise of rideshare companies in Chicago may have begun in earnest on Sept. 22, 2011, when Uber, one of the largest and most commonly known rideshare companies, first launched in the Windy City, according to a blogpost on its website. Since Uber’s arrival, similar companies like Lyft have all joined the marketplace.
Behind The Wheel
The estimated number of rideshare drivers on the road in Chicago appears to be staggering. According to a Nov. 2015 report from DNAinfo Chicago, more than 156,000 tax emblems, which represent a driver and car for companies that pick up passengers via smartphone apps, have been recorded by the City of Chicago.
The Defender spoke with a local rideshare driver to gain a better perspective as to what it’s like to be a part of the rideshare workforce.
Crystal Jones, a Chicago native, was originally drawn to drive for Uber after seeing one of their commercials emphasizing the extra money drivers could make. She said the allure of being her own boss was a part of what drew her to driving, too. She said she drove for the company for two years, typically working 35 hours on average a week. She said initially she was making a solid income but over time the returns began to steadily decrease, which prompted her switch to Lyft.
“Uber, to me, decided to get greedy; they started taking the choice of pools and they started taking our money, the bonuses started to [decrease],” said Jones.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Way, said he’s been a staunch critic of rideshare companies since they burst on the scene in Chicago. He called the idea to pair a driving service with an app a “great concept” but disliked the future implications the service would have on the city calling it “bad for business.”
“They have found a loophole and have been able to operate in that loophole for millions of dollars and escape regulations from the City of Chicago and any other municipalities,” said Beale. “They take advantage of their riders and their drivers to make money because when you sign up for Uber and Lyft, you use your car, your gas, your wear and tear on your car and you have to have a million dollars of insurance.”
Uber has yet to respond to an interview request with the Defender. A Lyft spokesman has yet to respond to an interview request with the Defender.
The Taxi Industry Speaks Out
One of the industries suffering from the emergence of rideshare companies in Chicago is the taxi industry. In the last three years taxi revenue has decreased by 40 percent, according to a report by Business Insider.
Chicagoans like South Side native Rick Calloway rely on the taxicab industry to provide for their family; yet, with recent developments he admitted he’s unsure of what’s going to happen next.
“What is happening is you’re taking a way of living to take care of your family and you’ve turned it into a fly by night job,” said Calloway. “We have rules and regulations that made us ambassadors to the city, and now one by one basically we are lowering our standards to what Uber and Lyft want as opposed to them coming up to par with the cab standards.”
Calloway, a taxi driver for five years, argues rideshare companies “over saturate the market.” He said with the influx of rideshare vehicles, his days have become longer as a necessity to break even just with the cost of leasing his taxi through a taxi company before factoring in his bills.
“Last year in January, I was paying $500 a week [for my lease] and for three straight weeks, I just broke even or was coming up short on my lease and I was working 12-13 hours a day and that’s when I realized I have to do more hours,” said Calloway.
A self-described entrepreneur, Calloway said he’s suffering from “anxiety” and “depression” because he’s now required to drive for 16-18 hours a day for a minimum of five days a week.
“I try to take a day off, but if it’s really, really slow, I work seven days,” said Calloway. “I’ve worked 21-28 days in a row a lot of times.”
Calloway is a member of Cab Drivers United (CDU)/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). According to David Kreisman, a spokesman from AFSCME Communications, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME was founded in 2014 after dozens of cab drivers approached AFSCME, a union, and expressed their concerns.
Jones echoed Calloway’s sentiment that with the high volume of rideshare vehicles on the road, making a significant amount of money is difficult.
“It’s almost like a hit or miss when you’re driving for Uber,” said Jones.
The Call for More Regulations
Beale believes more regulations are necessary for the entire rideshare industry. The alderman said rideshare drivers should undergo the same background and verification processes cab drivers go through to provide an added degree of security for everyone involved. He said 33 aldermen have signed on to lend their support toward legislation for greater rideshare regulation including background checks and fingerprinting.
“You have seen it where people have been robbed, sexually molested, and all of misbehavior that goes on and there’s no checks and balances,” said Beale. “Once you start fingerprinting, you become an employee of a company and they don’t want you to fingerprint because they don’t want any liability; they want you taking all the risk while they make the money.”
In a highly publicized incident former Uber driver Adnan Nafasat, 46, was charged with criminal sexual assault, unlawful restraint and kidnapping of one of his passengers in Jan. 2015, according to multiple reports. Uber released a statement saying it removed Nafasat from the platform and they were working with authorities.
Jones suggested passengers should be subject to background checks too to ensure the safety of drivers given the reports she read.
“What’s been going on lately is that the riders are the ones that are more violent than the drivers,” said Jones. “They’re saying they’re protecting the riders from the drivers, but who is protecting the drivers from the riders?”
Beale’s concerns go beyond just what happens on within the cars but into the digital space, too. He stated Uber violated city, state and federal laws by failing to disclose information to the federal government and local municipalities about its data breach.
“People’s stuff is still at risk and they tried to conceal it,” said Beale. “Uber is a bad company and you can see it time and time again. It’s only a matter of time before more drastic things happen because they’re a bad company.”
In response to the data breach Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi released a statement on the company’s website apologizing for the breach and outlining changes for the future.
“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” wrote Khosrowshahi. “While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes. We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.”
Business As Usual
Yet, despite everything that surrounds the rideshare industry, there are customers like Chicago native Sarai Koonce who will continue to take advantage of the service. She said a part of the reason why she prefers ridershare companies to other options is because “they hire regular people.” She said she isn’t overly concerned about her safety because she shares where she is traveling and who the driver is using screenshots from her phone with friends.
“It’s much easier, it’s much cheaper, it’s easier to communicate with the person after you already order the ride,” said Koonce, who shared she preferred Lyft over Uber. “It’s mostly about the convenience and my comfort.”