Illinois House moves to rein in ridesharing

Companies deny “compromise bill” included their input

April 11, 2014

(AP/Jeff Chiu)
Ridesharing company Lyft, which advertises with pink car mustaches, denies it had input on House Bill 4075. Illinois House members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill to regulate the industry.

Illinois lawmakers took a step Thursday toward imposing rules on popular ridesharing services that have come under particular scrutiny in the City of Chicago. Despite receiving thousands of e-mailed petitions overnight from supporters of Lyft and Sidecar urging them to vote against House Bill 4075, House legislators voted overwhelmingly (80-26) in favor of regulations.

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar started offering smartphone apps in the Chicago area in the last two years, aimed at helping regular people use their personal vehicles for hire. The House bill, backed by representatives of Chicago’s taxi industry, originally took a broad, restrictive approach, requiring those drivers to comply with many of the same rules as taxi drivers on issues of licensing and safety checks. The bill that ultimately passed was touted by its sponsor, Michael Zalewski (D-23), as a “compromise bill,” combining input from both the taxi industry and Uber.

“Nothing in this bill is going to shut down these apps,” Zalewski said, minutes before the roll call. “We want them to thrive, we want them to do well. However, it’s our duty to protect our constituents.”

State lawmakers have, in recent weeks, raised red flags over insurance concerns with ridesharing services, as well as the propriety of entrusting background checks and drug testing of drivers to the private companies. The bill that House members passed imposes different requirements based on how much time drivers spend behind the wheel for the services.

Those who average fewer than eighteen hours per week would largely remain under the oversight of the private companies. But drivers who average more than eighteen hours per week would be subjected to many of the same rules and oversight as taxi drivers in Illinois. The bill would require them to obtain public chauffeur licenses, commercial registration plates for their vehicles, and fulfill inspection and age requirements set by the city or local government in which they operate.

Zalewski told WBEZ that Uber’s lobbyist in Springfield, attorney Michael Kasper, supported the idea of bifurcating drivers into different regulatory categories depending on how much time they work. “I can only negotiate with who Uber tells me to negotiate with,” he said, “and their representatives were willing to negotiate on this point.”

But almost immediately after the bill passed, Uber denied that it was consulted in the crafting of the bill. “Uber has not signed off on a proposal that bifurcates drivers,” said Andrew MacDonald, Regional General Manager of Uber Midwest. Lyft issued a similar statement: “Bifurcating drivers into two groups was not a compromise and we did not support this model in conversations with the bill sponsors.”

“That’s an outright lie,” said Pat Corrigan, a Principal at Yellow Group and representative of the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, which includes nearly all of Chicago’s taxi companies. “We talked to Uber representatives, including Michael Kasper, their lobbyist, over the weekend in an attempt to understand how we could satisfy their wishes.” Kasper did not respond to an e-mail by posting time.

MacDonald argued that the bill will force drivers to choose whether they want to be full-time or part-time, and that it would make it difficult for the company to respond to fluctuations in demand.

“Why are we putting in a threshold? Does it benefit consumers? Does it benefit drivers? No. It protects the taxi industry,” he said. MacDonald said he did not know immediately what portion of the company’s drivers in Chicago drive more than eighteen hours per week. He added that a more reasonable restriction would simply limit rideshare drivers to 12 hours per day, a rule that Chicago taxi drivers must follow.

Chicago officials, however, have been crafting similar changes to a city ordinance on ridesharing. According to Michael Negron, Chief of Policy for the Mayor’s Office, a new proposal divides rideshare companies into two classes: those whose drivers average more than 20 hours a week, versus companies whose drivers average less. Companies with higher averages would have to ensure their drivers have public chauffeurs licenses and submit to background checks and drug tests done by the city.

Unlike the state legislation, the city will consider company-wide averages rather than individual driver averages. “If we have to go and individually determine how much each driver is driving, that’s a harder-to-enforce system, there’s more opportunity for gaming, etc.,” explained Negron.

The bill will go to the Illinois Senate after a two-week recess. 

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.