(TNS) -- Chicago aldermen adopted watered-down regulations on ride-hailing companies Wednesday despite critics complaining they hardly had time to consider the latest version of a proposal they worry will allow wealthy corporations like Uber to basically regulate themselves.
The 36-12 vote came after much procedural wrangling, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel even threatening to adjourn the City Council meeting amid the chaos.
There was plenty of back and forth over the particulars of the contentious bill, with taxi industry supporters saying it does too little to even the regulatory playing field and supporters of the package arguing it's a good compromise.
Northwest Side Ald. Scott Waguespack said the rules "don't do anything" to control the ride-hailing industry. And Northwest Side Ald. John Arena, 45th, said the watered-down rules will lead toward a "Wal-Mart economy" in Chicago, where "everything is cheaper, but you're not safer."
"Stop letting corporations write our laws to the detriment of our communities," Arena said.
Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, likened the last-minute changes to the much-reviled parking meter deal that then-Mayor Richard M. Daley rammed through the council without giving aldermen time to digest it.
But Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, said the ride-hailing rules have been sufficiently vetted at a series of meetings on the topic — though the ink was barely dry on the copies of the new version of the ordinance when the vote took place.
"We have been discussing this issue for months, years even," Moore said.
Supporters said the growth of the ride-hailing industry is an example of how the economy is changing, saying new technology like the phone apps that allow people to offer rides for hire in their personal cars are a boon to minorities who can supplement their incomes and get rides in neighborhoods where cabs are scarce.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. said the new industry is the reality in the city now. "I'm not trying to advertise for Uber, but this is the 21st century," the 27th Ward alderman said.
Aldermen need to look out for what's best for constituents rather than worrying about the feud between the cab industry and ride-hailing companies, Burnett added. "Let those guys fight," he said.
Chaos reigned in City Council chambers before the vote, with aldermen resorting to various procedural maneuvers and Emanuel threatening to adjourn the council for the day.
Waguespack, 32nd, moved to temporarily put off a vote on the proposal. Usually, that provides one month until the next regular meeting for both sides of an issue to press their case. But in response, Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, scheduled a City Council meeting for 1 p.m. Friday so aldermen could vote on the rules then. Emanuel then recessed the council meeting for the day.
Waguespack withdrew his blocking maneuver, since the vote would happen Friday anyway. But he complained the new version of the ordinance had just been handed to aldermen. "That is not the way to run the City Council," Waguespack said.
Emanuel was forced to deal with the ride-hailing issue after Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, brought forward his own proposal he said was meant to even the regulatory playing field with traditional cab companies that have seen their business take a big hit as Uber's popularity has swelled.
Beale got a tougher version of the ordinance through committee last week, requiring fingerprint background checks for ride-sharing drivers and that ride-hailing companies provide a certain level of handicapped-accessible vehicles. But while he insisted he had enough support to get it through the full council, it was unclear whether a majority of his colleagues would join him in opposing Emanuel.
Beale and other aldermen met this week behind closed doors with Emanuel administration officials, and emerged to say they had agreed to compromise language that had been watered down.
Fingerprinting, which Uber officials have said is an ineffective burden that would likely force them to stop operating in Chicago, will now be studied for six months. And the companies will have a year to implement a plan to offer handicapped accessible rides.
The package would require all ride-sharing drivers get special chauffeur licenses specific to the industry. But the drivers would be able to fulfill their training requirements online rather than attending expensive classes like cabbies must do.
The ordinance also eliminates the requirement that anyone applying for a public chauffeur license — cabbies or ride-sharing drivers — get an upfront drug test and physical exam, instead allowing the city's license commissioner to seek those for specific drivers when people complain.
Though he would have preferred no new ride-hailing rules, Emanuel can claim a victory by preventing the council from enacting an ordinance with real teeth. Emanuel has repeatedly asserted in recent months that the roughly 90,000 registered Uber and Lyft drivers in the city give Chicagoans more options, promote competition and make it easier for residents to find rides in predominantly minority neighborhoods.
Emanuel's brother, Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, is an Uber investor.
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