Uber, Lyft drivers face stricter rules after City Council panel acts

June 17, 2016
By Mary Wisniewsky & John Byrne
Chicago City Council joint committee on transportation and licensing on Friday voted for a ride-share ordinance that would increase regulations for Uber and Lyft drivers.

The ordinance, promoted by the taxicab industry, subjects Uber and Lyft drivers to some of the same regulations as cabdrivers, including fingerprinting as part of a criminal background check. The ordinance was approved by a voice vote.

The proposed ordinance also requires drivers to undergo drug tests and city debt checks.

"We're not forcing anybody out of the city of Chicago — we want everyone in," said Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, who sponsored the ordinance, responding to complaints from ride-share companies. He said the ordinance was to protect consumers.

Beale also said he will continue to work with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on possible changes to the ordinance before next Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Emanuel has repeatedly argued 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 where it has been hard to persuade cabdrivers to make pickups.

The mayor would prefer not to adopt any new regulations on the nascent industry. It's a favorite mode of transportation for well-educated, tech-savvy, often carless young people he wants to attract to the city so the companies who hope to hire them will locate here.

But the Emanuel administration attempted to broker a deal in the days before the Friday meeting on a less-stringent version of the bill.

The fact the city tried to negotiate with Beale rather than risk an embarrassing loss at next week's City Council meeting in an up-or-down vote on the Far South Side alderman's original proposal is a testament both to strong City Halllobbying by the cab industry and the low ebb in the mayor's political strength and ability to keep aldermen in line as he tries to recover from several crises over the past year.

With almost a week until the City Council meets, there is still a possibility that the two sides will agree on a compromise between now and then.

Friday's vote came after a City Council committee meeting last month at which supporters and opponents of the ride-hailing companies spent hours testifying about why their drivers should or shouldn't be held to the higher regulatory standards in the Beale plan.

Uber and Lyft officials threatened at that meeting to pull out of Chicago or greatly alter the services they offer here if the ordinance passed, with Marco McCottry, Uber's Chicago general manager, telling aldermen "ride-sharing as we know it would no longer exist in Chicago" if Beale's plan were adopted.

Beale countered that the companies "operate under 'The sky is falling' tactics," and predicted other online platforms would fill the void if they left the city.