In a quick, less than 10 minute committee meeting, aldermen on the Council’s License and Transportation Committees on Friday approved a controversial plan by voice vote requiring that drivers for ride-share companies apply for a city license and undergo a background check that includes fingerprinting.
Attendance: Chairman Anthony Beale (9), Pat Dowell (3), Sophia King (4), Gregory Mitchell (7), Rod Sawyer (6), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Michael Scott, Jr. (24), Roberto Maldonado (26), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Anthony Napolitano (41), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Deb Silverstein (50)
The item passed unanimously, as Transportation Chairman Anthony Beale (9), the main architect behind the ordinance, called for a voice vote, circumventing the possibility that the controversial plan would be voted down through a roll call. No objections were raised by aldermen present, even as more than a hundred Uber and Lyft drivers, many in matching t-shirts, watched the proceedings from the gallery.
No testimony was included during the brief meeting. Chairman Beale allowed only questions from aldermen who wanted clarification on the rules. Ald. James Cappleman (46) was the only one who took that opportunity, asking about the required drug tests for ride-share drivers. BACP Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek said the background checks would be the same for taxi and ride-share drivers under the ordinance.
“I don’t think we rammed this through,” Ald. Beale told reporters after the seven minute meeting, saying both sides had ample opportunity to state their case at a day long hearing held in May.
But Ald. Beale is still keeping the door open for possible changes, noting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is “very, very concerned” about his plan, especially as it relates to fingerprinting. Beale said he will continue to work with all sides in the days leading up to Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“I feel real good about where we are today,” Ald. Beale said when asked if he has the momentum to get this through the full City Council this week. “You know in this city, anything can happen between now and Wednesday.”
The Mayor’s Office had tried to negotiate a difference in the proposed rules between part-time and full-time drivers. Full-time would have been defined as any driver who clocks in more than 30 hours a week for 12 consecutive weeks. But Ald. Beale said that’s not happening, because a majority of drivers for Uber and Lyft work part-time.
“So if we pass that ordinance [from the Mayor], it wouldn’t have any teeth. It wouldn’t affect any of them. So, that to me was not an option,” said Beale.
Officials with Uber and Lyft have said that Ald. Beale’s regulations would kill ride-share in Chicago by creating onerous obstacles for their drivers, who they say generally sign up on a temporary basis to make some extra cash on the side. Uber doubled down on that in a statement released after the vote.
“We love Chicago. But the ordinance that advanced [Friday] would eliminate ridesharing as we know it here,” said Uber General Manager Marco McCottry in an emailed statement. “By constructing costly and complicated barriers for drivers that will prevent most from joining the platform, this proposal would take away affordable rides from Chicagoans. There is no need to harm one industry to help another. We continue to urge aldermen to reject this ordinance and instead modernize taxi’s rules to make life easier for their drivers.”
A Lyft spokesperson told news outlets Friday that Lyft might pull out, “Because of this, we will be forced to cease operations in Chicago if this ordinance becomes law.” But Uber stopped short of threatening to pull out of Chicago in their statement Friday, as they and Lyft did in Austin, Texas after that city enacted similar regulations on ridesharing companies. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition from Uber against Ald. Beale’s ordinance.
Beale remains unphased by the threat, arguing Chicago is too lucrative of a market for the industry to abandon. “We’re not trying to run anyone out of the city of Chicago,” he explained, noting that under his ordinance Uber and Lyft drivers would go through an expedited licensing process, different from the process for yellow cab drivers, which can take up to a week. Ald. Beale said ride-share drivers could get fingerprinted, obtain a restricted chauffeur’s license, and undergo a drug test and city debt check in one day. In the meantime, those drivers would be eligible for a temporary license from the city.
Ald. Beale wouldn’t specifically comment on what could be changed ahead of Wednesday’s City Council vote, other than he’s “willing to work with anybody to help strengthen this ordinance.”
“This is not a fight between me and the mayor,” he told reporters, arguing it was about consumer protection. “Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree.”