After hours of last-minute, closed door negotiations between the Mayor’s Office and aldermen, the City Council’s Finance committee approved a watered down version of Ald. Anthony Beale (9) and Ald. John Arena’s (45) ordinance amending the rules and regulations governing drivers employed by ride-hailing companies like Uber. Noticeably taken off the table: a requirement that would have forced those drivers to get a public chauffeur’s license in order to gain access to the city’s airports, McCormick Place, and Navy Pier.
The final version of the substitute ordinance was approved by voice vote following an hour-plus recess; a lengthy public testimony, which consisted of taxi drivers and their Uber counterparts throwing insults with lots of cheers and heckling from the gallery; and finally, testimony detailing the changes from Ald. Beale, Budget Director Alex Holt and Business and Consumer Protection Commissioner Maria Lapacek.
Attendance (committee members in bold): Chairman Ed Burke (14), Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Will Burns (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Gregory Mitchell (7), Anthony Beale (9), Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), George Cardenas (12), Marty Quinn (13), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Derrick Curtis (18), Matt O’Shea (19), Willie Cochran (20), Howard Brookins, Jr (21), Rick Munoz (22), Michael Scott, Jr (24), Danny Solis (25), Roberto Maldonado (26), Walter Burnett, Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Ariel Reboyras (30),Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Carrie Austin (34), Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nick Sposato (38), Marge Laurino (39), Pat O’Connor (40), Brendan Reilly (42), Michele Smith (43), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Harry Osterman (48), Deb Silverstein (50)
The updated version the Committee approved would add an additional $0.02 to the Mayor’s original $0.50 additional surcharge on all rides hailed through an app. The change is expected to bring in “a couple more million” to the city, according to Ald. Beale, who said the changes were, “not a total compromise but a huge, huge step in the right direction to bring parity to these two industries trying to co-exist.”
The additional revenue will offset the fees taxi drivers pay to acquire a chauffeur’s license by implementing a so-called “taxi chauffeur rebate program”. Under the program, which would be implemented by the commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), an eligible taxi driver could get subsidies that would cover up to $50 towards fingerprinting and background check costs, $25 towards biannual drug tests and physical examinations needed to renew the chauffeur’s license, and $50 towards chauffeur training courses.
The amendment also reduces the fees cab drivers have to pay to obtain a chauffeur’s license from $15 to $5 for the first license, and from $8 to $5 for the renewal. Ride-share drivers can’t have outstanding debt owed to the City if they want to obtain a Class A license to operate in the city, and they could be required to put additional “distinctive signs or emblems” advertising the company they work for on their car.
The new fees are expected to bring in $60 million dollars in annual revenue to the city, up from the Mayor’s original $48 million projection. Any dollar above that amount would be earmarked for new police hires, which Ald. Beale projects to be about 20-60 new hires on top of the city’s annual recruitment numbers. Directing revenue from ride-share companies for public safety expenses was an idea Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) floated in committee last week.
At the time, Aldermen Beale and Arena had introduced a brief, two-page ordinance requiring Uber drivers get a public chauffeur license if they wanted the ability to pick up passengers at the City’s airports, Navy Pier, and McCormick Place. At the start of yesterday’s meeting, an earlier draft of the substitute ordinance the committee approved was leaked to the press. That version which we have uploaded outlined a fee structure that would have required ride-hailing companies pay an annual licensing fee based on how many divers they employ. Under the city’s existing law, Uber pays a flat, $10,000 annual rate to license all of their drivers.
For example, if a ride-hailing company had less than 2,500 active drivers on Chicago streets, the company would pay the City $40,000 for the Class A Transportation Network Provider licenses (the official name for rideshare companies) required for these drivers. The highest bracket, with 100,000 employed drivers, would have cost $1.25 million. Under that plan, Uber, which has approximately 20,000 active drivers in Chicago, would have had to pay the city $750,000 a year to make sure their drivers are appropriately licenced. The new version the committee passed eliminates the fee structure completely. It was replaced with an additional 2-cent surcharge on all rides within city limits.
When Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26) asked why the public chauffeur requirement was nixed from the deal, BACP Commissioner Maria Lapacek said it was “unnecessary” to require that Uber drivers, a majority of whom work part-time, to apply for a license meant for full-time transportation drivers, like cabbies. Noting that the city already vets rideshare drivers when they apply for a Class A license, compounded by the fact that BACP’s licensing operation is taxed, Commissioner Lapacek said it would have been “too taxing of a process” for drivers of a “transient nature”.
The final vote on the rideshare amendment was taken at the tail end of the meeting, more than 4 hours after the start time.
When Chairman Burke called the meeting to order at 10, he announced he would “temporarily” hold the first two items on the agenda–the ridesharing ordinances–and move on to “items that can be resolved quickly”. He then held three Progressive Caucus-backed items in committee: Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa’s (35) proposed stormwater stress fee that would lower homeowner’s sewer fees by shifting the burden to large commercial properties; and Ald. Arena’s proposals to end the tax exemption on horse-drawn carriage rides and extend that exemption to opera tickets purchased by CPS and the Park District for education programs.
Going in the order of the agenda, he called the five Special Service Area appointments up for a vote. The appointments passed without testimony or discussion. He called a communication from the Law Department detailing all judgements and settlements for August up for a vote. The item passed without testimony or discussion. He called up ordinances to re-establish SSA #44 and property tax levy requests, service provider agreements, and budget proposals for 20 SSAs. Those also passed without testimony or discussion. Burke invoked Rule 14, and abstained from voting from SSA #7 (Kedzie Industrial Park), and SSA #39 (Brighton Park/Archer Heights). Those two applications were filed by Craig Chico, Executive Director for Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and brother of former mayoral candidate Gery Chico, a close business associate of Burke’s law practice.
The Committee also approved two separate redevelopment loan agreements for Midway Point, LLC and Maple Marketplace, with Chairman Burke abstaining from voting on the latter. It took the Committee less than ten minutes to push through and approve those items, before Burke said, “Ald. O’Connor moves to recess for 10 minutes.”
Over an hour later, the Committee was called back in session. But instead of starting with a summary brief detailing the newly drafted ordinance, Chairman Burke went straight to witness slips calling up over a dozen representatives and drivers from the taxi industry and Uber to testify. The move brought a lot of mudslinging and accusations from both sides.
But the fighting between the two factions started even earlier, with two competing rallies on the second floor of City Hall before yesterday’s hearing. Chanting “airports now”, Uber drivers in teal colored shirts that read “Keep Chicago Uber” spoke out to demand the City lift its current ban on pickups at O’Hare and Midway Airport. They were flanked by the city’s cab drivers, who countered with their own chant, “Same service, same rules.”