Ald. Beale moves to curb surge pricing by Uber, Lyft

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Ride-hailing drivers would be fingerprinted — and required to rein in “surge pricing” — under a surprise crackdown advanced Wednesday over the objections of Uber and Lyft.

Earlier this year, Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) told the Chicago Sun-Times that a commission charged with conducting an “independent study” of fingerprinting was poised to recommend that the city not adopt the requirement for Uber and Lyft drivers — and drop it for other categories of city employees.

Still, the committee has not issued a final report.

On Wednesday, Beale got tired of waiting.

He pushed through his committee an ordinance that would require ride-hailing drivers to “submit to fingerprinting, provide a photograph” and pay a processing fee, whether the application is approved or denied.

Uber and Lyft have long maintained that a background check based on FBI fingerprinting would discriminate against minorities who are “far more likely to have an interaction with the criminal justice system” — and often for minor, nonviolent offenses where the charges are dropped but the record has not yet been expunged.

Beale ridiculed that “sky-is-falling” warning and dared Uber and Lyft to “walk away from billions of dollars.”

He portrayed fingerprinting as pivotal to public safety because it’s the “one way to make sure a person is who they say they are.”

“The study was supposed to have been done six months ago. … I don’t know what the reason is that the city won’t release the study. I can tell you there were people inside the room advocating for fingerprinting — particularly the police department,” he said.

“Six months is a long time to wait past the deadline. It’s important that we go ahead and move this forward.”

The surge-pricing cap was driven by what Beale calls the predatory pricing by Uber and Lyft after a body was found on the CTA elevated tracks at Fullerton earlier this month. That halted service on the Brown, Purple and Red lines, leaving thousands of commuters scrambling to get to work.

If the full Council approves the ordinance, surge pricing would be capped at 150 percent above the average regular fare set during the seven days preceding any “unforeseen emergency.”

That’s defined as “any actual or threatened terrorist attack, mass shooting, major disruption in public transportation, failure or shortage or electric power and inclement weather.”

“Some of those people had to pay over $100 for a cab ride to get to work. A $12 cab ride turned into over $100 because they surge-priced. They’re taking advantage of a person’s misfotune. They got a refund. But, who told them to refund?” Beale said, referring City Hall.

“If the company is gonna surge price, so be it. But it should be for planned events. People know what they’re getting themselves into. But when CTA breaks down, they’re taking advantage of people’s misfortune — as well as the weather.”

Beale has received thousands of dollars in contributions from the taxicab industry. He’s the City Council’s champion for a shrinking industry fighting for survival in the Uber era.

But the chairman insisted Wednesday that the ordinance he muscled through committee, blindsiding Uber and Lyft, was not a payback for campaign contributions received.

“This is about the safety and well-being of the people of the city of Chicago. If you get into an Uber, I want to make sure you’re safe. I don’t want anything to happen to you,” he said.

Uber and Lyft had no immediate comment.

Uber and Lyft were blind-sided because the supplemental agenda including the finger-printing and surge-pricing crackdown wasn’t posted on the city clerk’s website until shortly before 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

That’s well short of the required, 48-hour public notice.

Still, Beale forged ahead. He blamed a “computer problem” in the clerk’s office for any posting delay.

Last year, a divided City Council agreed to license, but not fingerprint, ride-hailing drivers amid threats from Uber and Lyft to abandon the Chicago market.

Beale had pushed his more rigid licensing ordinance through committee days before the full Council vote.

Under pressure from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose brother is an Uber investor, Beale subsequently agreed to a compromise that would license all Uber and Lyft drivers after a daylong course that could be completed online and background checks performed by those ride-hailing companies, which would share the information with the city.

That compromise also stipulated there would be no fingerprinting for at least six months.

The hiatus was supposed to be used to appoint a commission charged with conducting an “independent study” of the value and fairness of fingerprinting.

After belatedly registering as an Uber lobbyist, President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, addressed aldermen in groups of 10 about the fingerprinting requirement he claimed would have prompted the ride-hailing giant to abandon the lucrative Chicago market.

The Board of Ethics slapped Plouffe with a $90,000 fine — a record amount — for his unregistered lobbying. He no longer works for Uber.

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