Progressive Caucus aldermen fell short of committee consideration of a substitute ordinance requiring licensing for Lyft and Uber drivers, after some somewhat tense wrangling between License Committee Chair Emma Mitts, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek, Ald. John Arena(45) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32).
After the vote, aldermen and cab drivers commiserated in the hallway outside Room 201A about the close vote that could have been pushed over if a couple more cab-friendly aldermen were present. “Where the hell were they?” someone said from the crowd.
Five aldermen–Waguespack, Arena, Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24), Ald. Chris Taliaferro(29), and Ald. David Moore (17)–voted in favor of hearing the Progressive Caucus substitute ordinance. But six voted against.
After the vote was cast, the Progressive Caucus issued a press release saying “Several other members of the committee were absent and did not cast votes.” Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), a Progressive Caucus member who was touted as a co-sponsor, was not in attendance, and Ald. James Cappleman (46), who expressed sympathy for cab drivers and a desire to regulate TNPs, missed the vote while he was temporarily chairing the concurrent Zoning Committee hearing.
Attendance: Chairman Emma Mitts (37), Gregory Mitchell (7), Marty Quinn (13), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Scott Waguespack (32), Michele Smith (43), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46)
Absent: Roderick Sawyer (6), Michelle Harris (8), Matt O’Shea (19), Willie B. Cochran (20), Roberto Maldonado (26), Debra Silverstein (50)
Others Present: Anthony Beale (9)
While he missed the vote, Ald. Cappleman delivered the day’s only applause line. He said the ordinance put forward by Business Affairs and Consumer Protection–which reduced fines and streamlined licensing for taxi drivers–didn’t go far enough to address the “elephant in the room”: transportation network providers (TNPs). Members of Cab Drivers United spent hours at committee meetings last week warning aldermen their industry was on the verge of collapse.
“I sincerely believe that the cab industry is in serious jeopardy because of TNPs… all over this country. Part of what I want to do is to work with [cab drivers] and the Mayor’s Office to start putting some tighter regulations on TNPs,” Cappleman said to claps from cab drivers in the seats, “I believe this [BACP ordinance] is a step forward, but it’s not the final step.”
The substitute ordinance from the Progressive Caucus was a direct introduction to the committee, something Chairman Mitts took offense to, telling Ald. Arena she refused to hear it, and it was “disrespectful.” She said she wanted the chance to read it. Committee members and some in the audience requested a roll call. Mitts eventually conceded and called the roll herself, starting with her own name, “Alderman Mitts. NO.”
Mitts and Arena had a similar face-off at a License Committee meeting discussing the same issues last week. Commissioner Lapacek and Ald. Arena disagreed again about Arena’s requests for information from BACP and the Department of Aviation.
Lapacek made it clear she was opposed to Arena’s introduction from the outset. “TNP Licensing is not agreed upon, I do not support licensing TNP drivers.”
Lapacek also squared off with Ald. Anthony Beale (9). He is not a member of the License committee, but he has advocated for more regulatory parity between cabbies and TNP drivers, especially during the budget negotiations in the fall. Last week, Beale won committee approval for a $0.50 surcharge to passengers on cab fares paid with plastic.
Beale asked Lapacek how much TNPs owe in outstanding debt to the city. Lapacek told Beale $15 million.
“My, my, my, $15 million.” Beale said. “So why are we continuing to let these guys drive and pick up people and make money off the city of Chicago and taxpayers, when they themselves owe the City of Chicago $15 million roughly?”
Lapacek said that debt is within the 90 day grace period for collection, which the Department of Finance is in process of doing. Beale countered that the city has been soft on TNPs while bringing down the hammer on cabbies. He said licensing individual drivers might be a better way for the city to get their money.
Per a release from the Progressive Caucus, the substitute ordinance would do just that. It would “require that all rideshare drivers of Class A or B transportation network providers obtain restricted chauffeurs’ licenses. Obtaining that license will require drivers to meet a number of qualifications that will better ensure the safety of passengers, including more stringent background checks and fingerprinting. It would also bar any driver who has been convicted of drug sales or possession, driving under the influence, and criminal sexual abuse within five years.”
But Lapacek said licensing individual drivers has been done in other cities, and would not resolve issues aldermen raised. Ultimately, the committee sided with her, voting to approve what BACP characterized as streamlining changes to licensing rules that were held in committee last week. It will be reported out at tomorrow’s City Council meeting.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44), who voted against hearing the Progressive Caucus’ introduction, said the conversation about TNP regulation was not over, and that Ald. Arena should submit the TNP licensing ordinance to the full City Council on Wednesday.