Chicago Cab Companies, Ride-Shares Partner on Policy

The strange bedfellows are pushing legislation that would put a year-long moratorium on new for-hire vehicle licenses.

by Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune / November 1, 2018
(Flickr/Elvert Barnes)

(TNS) — Chicago taxi and ride-share drivers, bitter rivals on the road, have joined forces to seek legislation to limit the number of Uber and Lyft cars in the city.

Drivers representing Chicago Rideshare Advocates and Cab Drivers United called for regulations similar to those recently enacted in New York City, which put a one-year moratorium on new for-hire vehicle licenses.

The goal is to increase earnings for struggling taxi and ride-share drivers while decreasing congestion on Chicago streets. There are more than 67,000 active Uber and Lyft drivers in Chicago, according to the city.

“The number of cars that are doing Uber and Lyft in this city is too much,” said Nnamdi Uwazie, 56, a veteran cab driver and organizer for Cab Drivers United, Chicago’s taxi-driver union.

Uwazie, who drives for Taxi Town, said it takes him four days of work to cover his $475 weekly cab lease. The influx of ride-share vehicles has so diluted the market, Uwazie said he struggles to make ends meet.

Nearly half of Chicago’s 6,999 licensed cabs are in foreclosure or off the road, according to city data.

Ride-share drivers are not doing much better, said Eli Martin, a driver for both Lyft and Uber who co-founded Chicago Rideshare Advocates in August.

“The vast majority of ride-share drivers are making minimum wage — before they factor in expenses,” said Martin, 36. “A lot of drivers might actually be operating at a loss.”

While the number of taxi medallions in Chicago is capped, there is no limit on ride-share drivers.

Chicago officials do not plan to cap ride-sharing services, said Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates the taxi and ride-share industries.

“Chicago has crafted a licensing and regulatory framework that promotes affordable, safe transportation choices for residents and visitors while enabling residents to participate in the local economy by working as (ride-share) drivers,” Escareno said in an emailed statement.

Uber and Lyft also oppose ride-sharing caps in Chicago.

“We’ve already seen the effects of a transportation cap in Chicago with taxis, and we know how this story ends: Riders most in need of affordable, reliable transportation options on the South and West sides are ignored, and the lucky few vehicle license owners raise lease rates on drivers,” Uber spokeswoman Charity Jackson said in statement.

A Lyft spokeswoman also cited the need for unlimited licenses to better cover underserved areas of the city and emphasized that many Chicago ride-share drivers work part time.

“Cuts to ride-share would eliminate job opportunities for drivers and drastically reduce access to transportation for passengers — particularly those in the South and West sides,” Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews said in a statement. “The cap imposed in New York City would not solve the challenges the city faces and would be even more harmful in Chicago because of how many drivers earn with Lyft part time.”

Some ride-share drivers tell a different story. Martin said many of the drivers he has talked to favor a cap and increased oversight of the companies. “It’s the Wild West right now,” he said.

Chicago’s taxi industry has been hard hit by changing consumer habits and the influx of ride-share drivers, a number that has grown fourfold in the past three years, according to the city.

Medallion prices have fallen from more than $300,000 five years ago to as low as $30,000 in July, according to city data. Banks that financed taxi medallion purchases are foreclosing on a growing number of owners, who are underwater and unable to make payments on the loans.

Uwazie said the current environment is the worst he has seen since he started driving a cab 23 years ago, forcing him to work seven days a week to care for his family and pay his bills. He sees common ground with ride-share drivers on limiting the number of for-hire licenses.

“The people who drive cabs, limos, Lyft and Uber are coming together to send a message to the aldermen,” Uwazie said. “We need regulation now. We need a limited number of drivers so they can all be able to make a living.”

©2018 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.