The lobbying arm for the city’s taxi industry is actively pursuing aldermen, spending thousands of dollars in political donations to likely garner support for a plan imposing stricter regulations on their biggest competitors: the ride-hailing industry.
Over the past two months, the political action committee for the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, ITTA PAC, has donated a total of $23,000 to about 20 aldermen (some received more than one check) and the Progressive Caucus. The group’s stated purpose on the State Board of Elections website is to, “garner support for the Illinois taxicab industry.” Recent contributions to ITTA PAC have come from New York based credit lenders, including Medallion Financial, which provides drivers loans to buy taxicab medallions, and the League of Mutual Taxi Owners Incorporated (LOMTO) Federal Credit Union.
A number of the aldermen who received a $1,000 check from ITTA since March are on the Council’s Transportation and License Committees–the two bodies that are expected to take up an ordinance that would require Uber and other drivers contracted by ride-hailing apps obtain a full-time chauffeur’s license, similar to the one the city requires of yellow cabbies.
The ordinance would drastically change how the ride-sharing industry operates in Chicago. Not only would Uber, Lyft and other drivers working for ride-hailing industries be required to get a public chauffeur’s license, those drivers would also have to get fingerprinted by an outside contractor chosen by the Police Department, and at least 5% of all ride-share cars would have to be wheelchair accessible with the same pricing and response times as the rest of the fleet.
It’s an idea the Emanuel Administration has opposed in the past. Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek has argued the two industries should not be treated the same, mainly because being an Uber driver isn’t considered a full time occupation.
But since the city opened up the airports, Navy Pier and McCormick Place to ride-hailing companies last fall, yellow cab drivers have sounded the alarm, warning their industry is on the verge of collapse. When BACP asked the License Committee in March to update licensing requirements for taxi and ride-share drivers, several cabbies testified they could no longer sustain themselves because of the proliferation of Uber and Lyft drivers on city streets. Ironically, a notable number of the drivers who vocally expressed their outrage that the administration has not done enough to level the playing field were part of the Taxicab Driver Fairness Task Force, a panel Mayor Emanuel himself assembled in 2014.
The same grievances were raised when the Transportation Committee considered a proposal from the Chairman, Ald. Anthony Beale (9), that would slap a 50-cent surcharge on all cab rides paid with credit or debit. Noting that plan would barely address the real issue at hand, creating parity among the two industries, Ald. Beale introduced an ordinance at the March City Council meeting that would further regulate the ride-sharing industry. That ordinance is currently in committee.
Since the beginning of March, Ald. Beale alone got the largest check from ITTA: $5,000. Other aldermen on the Transportation Committee who received a $1,000 check from ITTA include: Sue Sadlowski Garza (9), Raymond Lopez (15), Matt O’Shea (19), Chris Taliaferro (29), and Anthony Napolitano (41).
And those on the License Committee to accept a donation from ITTA include: Willie Cochran (20), Michael Scott, Jr. (24), Roberto Maldonado (26), Ariel Reboyras(30), Scott Waguespack (32), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), and James Cappleman (46).
Aldermen Pat Dowell (3) and Joe Moore (49) were the only two aldermen on neither committee to receive a $1,000 check from the taxi lobby over the same period.
Uber has also been lobbying its riders to come out against Beale’s proposal in an online petition that argues the measure “would put an end to uberX in Chicago and the affordable ride Chicagoans have come to expect.” The petition has garneredmore than 100,000 signatures.