Quinn vetoes 'Uber Bill,' some cry for override

August 25, 2014

(WBEZ/Odette Yousef)
Dan Burgess, once an enthusiastic driver for several ridesharing platforms, says he’s temporarily boycotting Uber. Both Uber and Lyft slashed passenger fares this summer, resulting in smaller earnings for drivers.

Supporters of limits to rideshare services in Illinois vowed Monday to push for an override of Governor Pat Quinn’s veto of the so-called “Uber Bill.”

The bill, which would have affected popular technology platforms such as Uber and Lyft, would have forced rideshare companies to track more closely how many hours each of their drivers spent behind the wheel in the state, and to comply with safety standards similar to those required in the taxi industry. Supporters of the bill blasted Quinn’s decision, saying it was motivated out of a concern for votes in the November gubernatorial election, rather than out of concern for public safety.

“Governor Quinn is making the decision solely because of politics,” said State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-11). “Governor Quinn has decided (he’s) not doing well in the polls, and based on his political advisors and lobbyists that he needs the ‘lakefront liberals’ to come out in big numbers for him, and maybe that’s what this is about.”

Sandoval said he will push to have HB 4075/5331 on the General Assembly’s override calendar in November. The Illinois House passed the measure 80-26 in June, and would require only 71 votes for an override. The Senate passed the measure 46-8, and would require only 36 to override.

But in his veto statement, Quinn said he objected to the bill’s pre-emption of “home rule,” meaning that it would prohibit local municipalities from creating or enacting their own regulations for rideshare services. “A statewide regulatory framework should only be considered when it is clear that it is not possible to address the problem at the local level,” he wrote. “At this point, there is not yet enough evidence to make a judgment about the effectiveness of local ordinances in dealing with the challenges of ridesharing technologies.”

The bill would have required rideshare companies to closely track how many hours each of their drivers averaged on their platforms. Those who offered rides more than 36 hours every two weeks would have to comply with safety regulations similar to taxi drivers — namely, obtaining a public chauffeur’s license, getting fingerprinted and submitting to a criminal background check. Additionally, the companies would have to provide commercial liability insurance identical to that which is required for taxis, for all its drivers -- regardless of how many hours they spend on the platform.

Several Chicago taxicab medallion owners joined Sandoval in protesting Quinn’s veto, saying they believed Quinn’s track record as a champion of consumer rights and safety would have led to a different outcome. But many believe that the issue has become politicized — even briefly becoming campaign trail grist by Quinn’s Republican opponent Bruce Rauner — such that the governor had little choice but to veto it. They said they are confident that the General Assembly will override.

Ehsan Ghoreishi, a Chicago taxi driver of ten years and former medallion owner, said the state sanctioning of rideshare companies will ultimately be bad for labor. “I’m a taxi driver, I lease from big companies,” he explained. “I’m sure there’s some exploitation, and it’s not a clean industry. But the question is: Do I prefer to work with a guy who owns 600 medallions? But I can reach him — he’s a tangible person, I can call his office, I can go make a complaint. Or, do I want to be exploited by a guy that I cannot reach in any tangible fashion?”

Indeed, changes that Uber and Lyft made to their fare and revenue structures this summer have alienated some of their most devoted drivers. Uber slashed its fares 15 percent, and started charging $10 each week for use of the data plan on iPhones that it issues to each driver. Chris Taylor, General Manager for Uber Chicago, said the price experiment has resulted in a greater number of people using their platform to get around. In other words, while drivers may earn less per ride, they’re getting more rides.

“We’re confident that drivers on average will still have the ability to earn, on average, double minimum wage in Illinois in fares per hour,” he said. Additionally, to offset the smaller earnings per ride, Taylor said Uber has negotiated discounts on gas, maintenance services and car washes for its drivers.

But Dan Burgess, who has driven for both Uber, Lyft, as well as a third competitor, Sidecar, said he and other drivers are definitely not earning double Illinois’ $8.25 minimum wage. “If you take into account our car expenses for fuel and wear and tear, we’re probably netting about $10 an hour,” he said. “It’s just not a worthwhile experience for us anymore.”

Meanwhile, relatively light regulations for the industry are set to take effect Tuesday in the City of Chicago. The rules would require the companies to apply for different classes of licenses, depending on how many hours their drivers, in aggregate, average. Companies whose drivers average fewer than 20 hours per week would be allowed to continue mostly as they already do. Both Uber and Lyft are working to gain this type of license.

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