WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Illinois House moves to rein in ridesharing http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-house-moves-rein-ridesharing-110011 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare-legislation.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>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 <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Flegislation%2Ffulltext.asp%3FDocName%3D09800HB4075ham003%26GA%3D98%26SessionId%3D85%26DocTypeId%3DHB%26LegID%3D77989%26DocNum%3D4075%26GAID%3D12%26Session%3D&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHJkILW6HuQSYOmvH2W08D1X1kv7w">House Bill 4075</a>, House legislators voted overwhelmingly (<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Filga.gov%2Flegislation%2Fvotehistory%2F98%2Fhouse%2F09800HB4075_04102014_024000T.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGoWEKnNfNCts1Fl2_xQZJgosffqw">80-26</a>) in favor of regulations.</p><p>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&rsquo;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 &ldquo;compromise bill,&rdquo; combining input from both the taxi industry and Uber.</p><p>&ldquo;Nothing in this bill is going to shut down these apps,&rdquo; Zalewski said, minutes before the roll call. &ldquo;We want them to thrive, we want them to do well. However, it&rsquo;s our duty to protect our constituents.&rdquo;</p><p>State lawmakers have, in recent weeks, raised red flags over <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fstate-legislators-probe-rideshare-insurance-109857&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGo3KvYNiEAn8hJorLnRP8GtOztGg">insurance concerns</a> 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>Zalewski told WBEZ that Uber&rsquo;s lobbyist in Springfield, attorney Michael Kasper, supported the idea of bifurcating drivers into different regulatory categories depending on how much time they work. &ldquo;I can only negotiate with who Uber tells me to negotiate with,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and their representatives were willing to negotiate on this point.&rdquo;</p><p>But almost immediately after the bill passed, Uber denied that it was consulted in the crafting of the bill. &ldquo;Uber has not signed off on a proposal that bifurcates drivers,&rdquo; said Andrew MacDonald, Regional General Manager of Uber Midwest. Lyft issued a similar statement: &ldquo;Bifurcating drivers into two groups was not a compromise and we did not support this model in conversations with the bill sponsors.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s an outright lie,&rdquo; said Pat Corrigan, a Principal at Yellow Group and representative of the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, which includes nearly all of Chicago&rsquo;s taxi companies. &ldquo;We talked to Uber representatives, including Michael Kasper, their lobbyist, over the weekend in an attempt to understand how we could satisfy their wishes.&rdquo; Kasper did not respond to an e-mail by posting time.</p><p>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.</p><p>&ldquo;Why are we putting in a threshold? Does it benefit consumers? Does it benefit drivers? No. It protects the taxi industry,&rdquo; he said. MacDonald said he did not know immediately what portion of the company&rsquo;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.</p><p>Chicago officials, however, have been crafting similar changes to a city ordinance on ridesharing. According to Michael Negron, Chief of Policy for the Mayor&rsquo;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.</p><p>Unlike the state legislation, the city will consider company-wide averages rather than individual driver averages. &ldquo;If we have to go and individually determine how much each driver is driving, that&rsquo;s a harder-to-enforce system, there&rsquo;s more opportunity for gaming, etc.,&rdquo; explained Negron.</p><p>The bill will go to the Illinois Senate after a two-week recess.&nbsp;</p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-c1722b30-50d1-5e4e-753a-9f789cd52716">Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </span><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 07:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-house-moves-rein-ridesharing-110011 CTA facing lawsuits over Blue Line crash http://www.wbez.org/news/cta-facing-lawsuits-over-blue-line-crash-109923 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP661422106797(1)_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-4d56c266-0058-d3dc-b02d-129942eb4a5c">Two women who say they were hurt in Monday&rsquo;s O&rsquo;Hare station train crash have filed lawsuits against the Chicago Transit Authority. Attorneys say there are more lawsuits to come.</p><p>The women both work in O&rsquo;Hare International Airport and were passengers on the CTA Blue Line train that jumped the tracks and plowed up an escalator at the airport station. Both claim they suffered debilitating injuries in the accident, which occurred early Monday morning.<br /><br />Both suits were filed in Cook County court and the plaintiffs demand more than $50,000 in damages.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/leaked-video-appears-show-blue-line-train-derailment-109917">Leaked video appears to show Blue Line train derailment</a></strong></p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">Jerry Latherow, the attorney for plaintiff Niakesha Thomas, said Thomas was on her way to work at Hudson&rsquo;s News Stand in the airport when the train crashed.</p><p>The lawyer said Thomas cannot walk right now because of her injuries.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;She&rsquo;s a sole bread-winner, she has a 1-year-old baby. She is not going to be able to work, we don&rsquo;t know how long it&rsquo;s going to be before she gets back to work. But she needs to do what she can to protect herself and her baby,&rdquo; Latherow said.</p><p>He said Thomas suffered injuries to her hips and back.</p><p dir="ltr">The lawsuit alleges the crash was caused by a combination of operator error and failures by the CTA to maintain the tracks and train equipment.</p><p>Federal officials say the train operator admitted that she &ldquo;dozed off&quot; before the accident.</p><p dir="ltr">National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ted Turpin said the woman had been working as an operator for about two months and acknowledged she had previously fallen asleep on the job in February, when her train partially missed a station.</p><p>&quot;She did admit that she dozed off prior to entering the station,&quot; Turpin said of the operator during a briefing Wednesday. &quot;She did not awake until the train hit.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">He said the woman, who was cooperating with the investigation, often worked an erratic schedule, filling in for other CTA employees.</p><p>&quot;Her hours would vary every day,&quot; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Turpin said the NTSB is investigating the woman&#39;s training, scheduling, and disciplinary history.</p><p>Latherow said it is &ldquo;very alarming&rdquo; that the transit agency allowed someone who had fallen asleep at the helm before to operate another train.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;She&rsquo;d only been working as an &hellip; operator for 60 days &hellip; and here she&rsquo;s fallen asleep what comes out to once a month now,&rdquo; Latherow said. &ldquo;And this is very alarming, and you wonder who is calling the shots? Who is letting somebody like this continue to operate a train, which is deadly?&rdquo;</p><p>Latherow said an aim of the suit is to force change at the CTA -- including altering the agency&rsquo;s hiring policies and fixing the train&rsquo;s braking system.</p><p dir="ltr">A CTA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.</p><p>The second lawsuit was filed by 23-year-old Dalila Jefferson, a security officer who also was on her way to work at the airport.</p><p dir="ltr">Her attorneys said she was preparing to get off the first car of the train when she was &quot;catapulted forward&quot; as the car jumped the track and came to rest partway up an escalator.</p><p>Attorneys said Jefferson broke her foot and suffered neck and back injuries.</p><p dir="ltr">More than 30 people were hurt during the crash, which occurred around 3 a.m. Monday. None of the injuries was life-threatening.</p><p>Nonetheless, Latherow predicts many more lawsuits. He said his firm is already preparing another suit against the CTA, this one brought by a Transportation Security Administration worker who was hurt on her way to work.</p><p dir="ltr">Turpin said the crash caused about $6 million worth of damage.</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a></em></p></p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cta-facing-lawsuits-over-blue-line-crash-109923 Leaked video appears to show Blue Line train derailment http://www.wbez.org/news/leaked-video-appears-show-blue-line-train-derailment-109917 <p><p>Footage appearing to show <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/blue-line-train-derails-climbs-escalator-ohare-109909">Monday&#39;s Blue Line derailment</a> at O&#39;Hare International Airport <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elMXt00xyIU">surfaced late Tuesday on YouTube</a>.</p><p>Though the original poster is unkown and the video was taken down, copies have sprung up around the video-sharing website. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, neither the <a href="http://voices.suntimes.com/news/breaking-news/surveillance-video-appears-to-show-blue-line-ohare-derailment/">CTA or the NTSB have commented on the video yet</a>.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 08:23:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/leaked-video-appears-show-blue-line-train-derailment-109917 Blue Line train derails, climbs escalator at O'Hare http://www.wbez.org/news/blue-line-train-derails-climbs-escalator-ohare-109909 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP661422106797(1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Last updated March 25, 4 p.m.</em></p><p>An emergency track-side braking system activated but failed to stop a Chicago commuter train from jumping the tracks and barreling to the top of an escalator at O&#39;Hare International Airport, a federal investigator said Tuesday.</p><p>The events that led to Monday&#39;s accident, which occurred around 3 a.m. and injured more than 30 passengers, might have begun with the train operator dozing off toward the end of her shift, according the union representing transit workers. But Tuesday&#39;s announcement that a piece of emergency safety equipment might have failed was the first indication the accident could have been caused by human error and mechanical failure.</p><p>National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ted Turpin said a preliminary review showed the train was traveling at the correct speed of 25 mph as it entered the station. Investigators said they have not yet determined whether the operator ever applied the in-cab brake.</p><p>Turpin, who is in charge of the investigation, said an automatic emergency braking system located on the tracks was activated but failed to stop the train as it burst onto the platform.</p><p>&quot;It activated,&quot; Turpin said of the emergency system. &quot;That&#39;s all we know factually. Now, whether it did it in time or not, that&#39;s an analysis that we have to figure out.&quot;</p><p>A team from the NTSB was also exploring how rested the train operator was before starting her shift and whether rules governing overtime had been violated, after a union official suggested she might have dozed off.</p><p>They planned to interview the train operator Tuesday afternoon.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re going to ask probably the operator how they felt ... because we always take into consideration the fatigue factor. It&#39;s one of the things we do investigate,&quot; Turpin said.</p><p>The operator, whom officials have not identified, was off duty for about 17 hours before starting work around 8 p.m. Sunday but had recently put in a lot of overtime, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly said Monday.</p><p>&quot;I know she works a lot &mdash; as a lot of our members do,&quot; he said. &quot;They gotta earn a living. ... She was extremely tired.&quot;</p><p>Kelly said the operator took standard drug and alcohol tests after the derailment and that she assured him they were not an issue.</p><p>Asked whether she may have nodded off, Kelly responded: &quot;The indication is there. Yes.&quot;</p><p>Federal investigators hoped to turn the scene over to local officials later Tuesday to begin removing the train from the escalator at the underground Chicago Transit Authority station.</p><p>The train is designed to stop if operators become incapacitated and their hand slips off the spring-loaded controls. Kelly speculated that, upon impact, inertia might have thrown the operator against the hand switch, accelerating it onto the escalator.</p><p>Transit officials refused to discuss what other safety mechanisms are in place around the transit system while the investigation was ongoing.</p><p>Federal safety regulators keep a close watch on longer distance, city-to-city passenger rail and freight operations. But federal safety oversight of transit systems within cities has been weaker, and responsibility for any technology to prevent crashes and control speeds has been left to local authorities.</p><p>There are efforts to grant a safety oversight role to the Federal Transit Administration, which has primarily been a funding agency, said Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, a Washington-based advocacy group.</p><p>In the meantime, local transit agencies like Chicago&#39;s make their own choices about how to spend scarce funding, juggling the needs of safely maintaining systems that are a century old in some places with pressure to expand systems to meet demand.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s always going to be a tension, but it&#39;s a tension that becomes more pronounced when there&#39;s not a healthy level of investment in both maintenance and ... capacity expansion,&quot; Jeans-Gail said.</p><p>Investigators have also been scrutinizing the train&#39;s brakes, track signals and other potential factors while reviewing video footage from more than 40 cameras in the station and on the train, Turpin said.</p><p>The station remained closed Tuesday, and CTA buses took passengers to and from O&#39;Hare to the next station on the line. Transport officials have not said when full Blue Line service will resume at O&#39;Hare.</p></p> Mon, 24 Mar 2014 09:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/blue-line-train-derails-climbs-escalator-ohare-109909 State legislators probe rideshare insurance http://www.wbez.org/news/state-legislators-probe-rideshare-insurance-109857 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare hearing_140313_oy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong><em>Update: This story has been updated to reflect an announcement this morning by Uber regarding insurance for its drivers.</em></strong></p><p>A day after Illinois legislators threatened to pull the plug on popular ridesharing services over insurance concerns, the industry announced changes to its policies. Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, held a conference call with reporters to discuss an extension of its coverage to periods when drivers may be looking for passengers.</p><p>&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re announcing today is that for the period of time between trips, when the app is open and the driver is essentially available for requests, we are announcing that we are rolling out coverage for Uber partners on uberX nationwide, and that coverage starts today,&rdquo; said Kalanick.</p><p>Ridesharing services like uberX, Lyft and Sidecar offer smartphone apps that allow regular people to offer their personal cars for hire. The companies, based in California, have been aggressively recruiting new drivers in Chicago as they race with each other to establish the greatest foothold in an unregulated environment.</p><p>But as their popularity with tech-savvy millennials appears to be growing, so has scrutiny from local governments. The City of Chicago recently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639">moved to regulate</a>&nbsp;the companies under two competing measures: one, championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would create a new public transportation category for them, allowing the services to continue with some oversight by the city. At the other end of the spectrum is a resolution by Chicago Aldermen Anthony Beale and Edward Burke, calling for the services to be regulated under existing rules for the taxi industry. The latter proposal would likely force the ridesharing services out of Chicago altogether.</p><p><strong>The insurance gap</strong></p><p>The &ldquo;insurance gap&rdquo; was a key issue at Wednesday&rsquo;s Illinois Senate Transportation Committee hearing, held in Chicago. Several insurance industry representatives testified that most personal insurance policies would consider that activity to be commercial, and therefore decline to cover the damages. Kalanick said his company has not seen many instances of this, but said Uber decided to extend its coverage explicitly to cover these periods to clear up any &ldquo;ambiguity.&rdquo;</p><p>The policy would carry up to $50,000 for bodily injury, with a total of $100,000 per incident, and $25,000 for property damage. Kalanick said the policy is not subject to any aggregate limit -- meaning there would be no limit to the total amount of all claims that may be filed.</p><p>Kalanick also said he is open to discussing his company&rsquo;s insurance policies to legislators and regulators in Chicago and Illinois. &ldquo;We have shown the insurance policy to a number of regulatory bodies, etc.,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and (I) am happy to do that to help different cities get over the hump.&rdquo;</p><p>His remarks come the day that a response is due from Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, to a subpoena issued by Chicago&rsquo;s City Council. The Council is seeking copies of those companies&rsquo; insurance policies as it considers regulations to the ridesharing industry. It was not clear whether any of the companies had complied with the deadline by time of publication.</p><p>State Senator Martin Sandoval, Chairman of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, was not available for comment on the changes at time of publication.</p><p style="text-align: center;">***</p><p>The issue of insurance for rideshare drivers prompted a hearing Thursday morning before the Illinois Senate&rsquo;s Transportation Committee in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;When you get on a train, you&rsquo;re covered,&rdquo; said Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval on Thursday, referring to insurance. He continued, &ldquo;When you get on a plane the consumer&rsquo;s covered. When you get on a bus, the consumer&rsquo;s covered. When you get in a cab, the consumer&rsquo;s covered. The question is: when you get in a rideshare vehicle, are you covered?&rdquo;</p><p>Sandoval said the three companies declined to attend Thursday&rsquo;s committee hearing. Witnesses were on hand to testify from the taxi industry and the insurance industry.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not against Uber, we&rsquo;re not against Lyft, we&rsquo;re not against taxis,&rdquo; testified Stephen Schneider, Midwest region vice president for the American Insurance Association. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not for taxis and we&rsquo;re not for Uber. We&rsquo;re for the protection of the consumer, that they are adequately covered by personal insurance, and that the drivers are adequately covered by commercial insurance, and we&rsquo;re here to support that.&rdquo;</p><p>Uber, Lyft and Sidecar require their drivers to have personal auto insurance, and claim to offer excess liability insurance of $1 million per incident, but have declined to share copies of that policy with WBEZ and others. The problem, said witnesses at the hearing, is that the excess policies are not triggered until a driver&rsquo;s personal insurance is exhausted -- and personal insurance policies explicitly preclude coverage for commercial use of a vehicle.</p><p>&ldquo;Our members&rsquo; concern is, and what I think might happen is, you&rsquo;ll get a lot of lawsuits,&rdquo; said Robert Passmore, Senior Director of Personal Lines Policy at Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ll have a lot of disputes and a lot of litigation, a lot of lawsuits.&rdquo;</p><p>Sandoval noted that Lyft and Uber recently changed their policies to &ldquo;drop down&rdquo; to serve as primary insurance in case a driver&rsquo;s personal policy declines to cover damages from an accident. But insurance industry representatives said they could not verify if that covers the insurance gap without seeing copies of the policy. They also noted other problems with the excess policies, namely the companies&rsquo; stipulation that the coverage applies only when a driver has accepted a fare, until that ride has ended.</p><p>&ldquo;More than half of the accidents -- 60-plus percent of the accidents -- occur when the vehicle does not have a passenger,&rdquo; said Michael Francis, President of Transit General Insurance Company, which insures many taxi and livery vehicles. Francis said the excess policies appear not to cover accidents that may occur when drivers are circling neighborhoods in anticipation of a fare.</p><p>The lack of details about the companies&rsquo; policies raised other concerns, about whether the insurers behind them are reputable.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the certificates I have, specifically for Uber, we don&rsquo;t know who the insurer is,&rdquo; said Michael Francis, President of Transit General Insurance Company. &ldquo;The other two are by an insurer that would be not an authorized insurer.&rdquo;</p><p>Francis explained that &ldquo;unauthorized&rdquo; insurers are not subject to the same scrutiny by the Illinois Department of Insurance as authorized insurers, and they are not backed by the Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund if they become insolvent. He also pointed out that without seeing the companies&rsquo; policies, it&rsquo;s not clear if they have aggregate limits. That is, $1 million per incident policies that are subject to a limit and could, after a certain number of incidents, deplete the insurance.</p><p>&ldquo;Even if it was the real deal, it&rsquo;s still subject to some kind of aggregate,&rdquo; Francis explained, &ldquo;which makes it very illusory because we don&rsquo;t know how many events that would cover before the well runs dry.</p><p>State Senator Sandoval said he&rsquo;ll seek authority to subpoena the companies&rsquo; insurance policies, and if the companies fail to comply, he may seek to ban the services altogether.</p><p>&ldquo;It is very evident and very clear from industry insurance experts, (and) even the Department of Insurance, that Illinois residents and consumers are not protected and covered under these private ridesharing arrangements,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s City Council has issued a subpoena to the companies for their insurance policies, due March 14. If the companies do not comply, city lawyers have discretion over whether or not to pursue further enforcement.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" style="text-decoration:none;">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" style="text-decoration:none;">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 14 Mar 2014 09:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-legislators-probe-rideshare-insurance-109857 Shadowy lobbyists influence rideshare debate http://www.wbez.org/news/shadowy-lobbyists-influence-rideshare-debate-109770 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare lawsuit_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The fight over the future of ridesharing in Chicago is increasingly being waged through shadowy lobbyists. This has some aldermen concerned about how that could influence the current regulatory debate.</p><p>At a hearing at City Council&rsquo;s Joint Committee on Transportation and Finance on Monday, some noted that the lobbying activity on the issue appeared different from the usual at City Hall. They said they were disturbed by the apparent emergence of advocates for ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, who have not identified their interests upfront.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m concerned with the amount of lobbyists on this that we won&rsquo;t hear from today,&rdquo; said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), after noting that he had been handed an unmarked packet of information on his way into the hearing, with no information about its source. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d like to see all the lobbyists come up and forward on who we&rsquo;re dealing with and what&rsquo;s happening in this controversy here.&rdquo;</p><p>Ridesharing services offer smartphone apps to connect people with cars to people who need rides. Drivers do not have public chauffeur licenses, and they use their personal vehicles. Lately, several cities in the country, including Chicago, have been considering whether, and how, to regulate these services to ensure public safety.</p><p>Earlier this month, city officials offered <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639" target="_blank">competing proposals</a> on rules for ridesharing. Almost immediately, media outlets (including WBEZ) began receiving phone calls and emails about the issue from a public relations firm that did not immediately identify its ties to the ridesharing industry.</p><p>A Chicago-based communications firm called Resolute Consulting has offered to connect reporters with community-based organizations in neighborhoods such as Little Village, Belmont-Cragin and Pilsen, who support ridesharing services. It did not initially disclose that its client is Uber, one of the technology companies behind a ridesharing app.</p><p>The consulting firm similarly publicized a press conference led by Alderman Joe Moreno (1st) just minutes before Monday&rsquo;s committee hearing on ridesharing rules. Moreno was joined by drivers and passengers of ridesharing services to voice support of &ldquo;reasonable regulations&rdquo; for the technologies.</p><p>&ldquo;Today is, I think, the difference between the Flintstones and the Jetsons,&rdquo; said Moreno. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re here today to support the Jetsons.&rdquo;</p><p>Moreno said regulating ridesharing services under taxi rules, as proposed in a resolution by Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Ed Burke (14th), would stifle innovation in Chicago. Other supporters at the press conference said they feel safe using ridesharing services, and that driving for these services helps them supplement low incomes.</p><p>They denied that a company had lobbied them to be at the press conference, with Moreno adding that riders, drivers and the industry are organizing on their own around the issue. But reporters were handed unlabeled, white folders containing reports about Uber, copies of letters written to the city on behalf of Uber, and other information highlighting troubles within the city&rsquo;s taxi industry. Resolute Consulting&rsquo;s name is nowhere cited in the packet, though a listed contact&rsquo;s name and number are associated with the company.</p><p>Additionally, all the riders and drivers present at the press conference disclosed, upon being asked, that they were only affiliated with Uber, rather than other ridesharing companies. Afterward, a consultant for Resolute told WBEZ that Uber had put out a request to its members to organize on behalf of limiting city regulations. Alderman Moreno admitted that he had met with an Uber lobbyist, whose name, he said, he could not recall. But he maintained that his advocacy on the issue was motivated by concerns he had heard from constituents who use the service.</p><p>&ldquo;There are lobbyists on both sides of this issue,&rdquo; Moreno offered at the committee hearing, in response to Fioretti&rsquo;s suggestion that ridesharing companies have been surreptitious in their lobbying effort. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just lobbyists that are on the rideshare side,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;There&rsquo;s lobbyists that we all know that are on the taxi side of this, as well.&rdquo;</p><p>Interests aligned with the taxi industry have also mounted their own public campaign. In recent weeks, public relations firm Edelman has reached out to the media on behalf of client Taxi Magic, which produces an alternative transportation app. Taxi Magic partners with nine metro area cab companies, including Yellow Cab and Checker. Yellow is among several plaintiffs who recently filed a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655" target="_blank">federal lawsuit</a> against the City of Chicago, demanding that the city regulate ridesharing apps as it does their industry.</p><p>The coalition of companies behind the lawsuit have also hired former Daley administration lawyer, and City Hall insider, Mara Georges to represent their interests to aldermen in this debate. At Monday&rsquo;s committee hearing, Georges started off testimony by offering evidence to bolster Aldermen Burke and Beale&rsquo;s resolution to treat ridesharing companies the same as taxis.</p><p>In 2014, city data show the industry has four registered lobbyists at City Hall. Among ridesharing companies, Uber has three and Lyft has one. A single lobbyist represents taxi drivers&rsquo; interests.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 25 Feb 2014 17:04:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/shadowy-lobbyists-influence-rideshare-debate-109770 Chicago to Mexico, by bus http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicago-mexico-bus-109747 <p><p><em><strong>This story is made for your ears. Please push play above! </strong></em></p><p>Every week, hundreds of people board coach buses in Chicago and travel to Mexico. I used to live in Mexico, and have taken the 2,000-mile trip nearly a dozen times to and from Zamora, Michoacán. On my most recent trip, I brought a tape recorder along, and made this audio travelogue.</p><p><em>Your attention please. Everybody with your tickets on your hand! </em><em>Por favor, todos tengan su boleto en la mano, que ahorita se lo voy a quitar!</em></p><p>The soundtrack of a bus trip to Mexico consists of the driver on the public address system, the 45 other passengers and their snores, cries,the rustle of plastic bags, cell phone conversations, back-to-back movies shown on the six screens suspended from the ceiling, the bus driver&rsquo;s radio, and always, the drone of the bus engine .</p><p>Every time you start one of these trips, you consider the variables. And you hope. Sleek paint jobs and tinted windows mean these buses almost always look better on the outside than they do on the inside. The small amount of legroom can be alarming, and uncomfortable. Other variables: the temperature, the smells.</p><p><em>How lucky are we? </em>I ask our driver.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Oh, beautiful, beautiful! We got Wi-Fi, we got a switch where you can recharge your battery. </em></p><p>The driver tells me his approach to the job: make everybody happy. His immediate strategy involves 80s music on the radio (for him) and back-to-back movies (for us). <em>Lethal Weapon 3 </em>is in progress as we board. It&rsquo;s repeated later in its entirety, for those who boarded late.</p><p>Chicago is connected to a world of small Mexican towns that most people have never heard of. If I want to visit my mother-in-law in provincial Mexico, I can walk to a bus station in my Chicago neighborhood and buy a direct ticket to Zamora, Michoacán (well, they call it a direct ticket, you&rsquo;ll see what that means).</p><p>The ride takes 48 hours, two days and two nights. And, no, there is not a sleeping car.</p><p>Like most people on the bus, my family of five is here for one reason: during peak travel seasons, it&rsquo;s a lot cheaper than a plane.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/INSIDE.jpg" title="Variables inside the bus: legroom, temperature, smell. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p><em>Welcome and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemens. Thank you for choosing El Expreso. I&rsquo;m sorry for the de-late. </em></p><p>The names of the bus lines traveling to Mexico are meant to make you think the trip will fly by. There&rsquo;s El Conejo, the Rabbit. Tornado. We&rsquo;re traveling this time on El Expreso (right.)</p><p>Every two-day bus trip starts with a little welcome speech. And every speech includes some variation on this rule:</p><p><em>El baño. Favor de usar el numero 1 si es posible, porque el numero 2 está un poquito fuerte y no queremos que vaya un olor fuerte en la estancia.&nbsp; </em></p><p>Do NOT use the bus bathroom&mdash;basically, unless you&rsquo;re dying. Absolutely no Number 2.</p><p><em>We do not want strong odors on the bus</em>, the driver says. <em>Hay que tener mucho respeto por las demás gentes. </em></p><p>From the moment you buy your ticket, you&rsquo;re stepping into a different world, a world you do not control, a world where things will not go as planned, small things and big things.</p><p>The 1 pm bus leaves at 2:30 pm. That&rsquo;s not too bad.&nbsp; The Wi-Fi? Actually&hellip; no Wi-Fi.</p><p>Last year, we were stranded for 20 hours in Matamoros. Another time, one of the side windows of the bus just fell out. The driver went back to look for it on I-35&mdash;no luck. So we just kept going, the 100-degree Texas heat blowing through the bus all the way to Dallas.</p><p>These bus companies have been sued over accidents; I try not to think about that when I buy the tickets.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p><em>Please do take advantage of this stop, because the next stop won&rsquo;t be until Jackson, so it&rsquo;s quite a ways. Go ahead and take advantage of it. </em><em>Aquí 25 minutos. 25 minutes. </em></p><p>If you do this trip a few times, you get to know all the stops: Effingham, Illinois; Matthews, Missouri&mdash;that&rsquo;s where we are right now. The sound of the bus is everywhere. Even when you&rsquo;re not on it, it&rsquo;s idling nearby. We look pale, dazed under the fluorescent gas station lights.&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MATTHEWS%20TRAVEL.JPG" title="Matthews, Missouri (Credo Duarte)" /></div><p>Next will be Jackson and McComb, Mississippi; Lafayette, Arkansas; Houston, Beeville, and McAllen, Texas. And on the Mexico side: Monterrey, Matehuala, San Luis, Celaya, Zamora.</p><p>We pack the TA Travel Center bathroom. We brush our teeth, line up for the toilet, spray deodorant, change the babies. Little by little you get to know where everyone is from, where everyone&rsquo;s going, places that have sent generations of immigrants to the Chicago area, mostly: Michoacán, Zacatecas, Jalisco. The college student from Beloit is going to Durango.</p><p><em>Yeah, so it&rsquo;s like, another 13 hours after Houston. I don&rsquo;t even know&hellip; I get motion sickness, so I&rsquo;m like half awake, half asleep the whole ride. </em></p><p>She&rsquo;ll come back in a week, do this all again but in reverse.</p><p>The lady from Guanajuato, I feel like I know her life story. (Would this ever happen on a plane?) How her daughter got married at age 16, how she made a deal with God to get her immigration papers...</p><p><em>&hellip;Y agarré a mi niño y me pase a la recámara. No lloraba, pero &iexcl;se imagina todo lo que estaba pasando! Que de una manera y de otra y no había manera de pasarme. &nbsp;Y yo agarré y me hinqué y yo le dije, &lsquo;Señor, tú sabes&rsquo;&mdash;ahora sí como que lo obligué&mdash;&lsquo;tú SABES que yo TENGO que estar con mi esposo. Yo no sé como le vas a hacer, pero tú me vas a llevar.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp; Y al otro día, que me dice la prima, &ldquo;Oye, &iquest;por qué no sacas otra vez tu pasaporte&hellip; </em></p><p>8 hours down, 40 to go.</p><p>The movies stop and the lights get turned off at 11:30 pm. The clatter of the bus over the highway is rhythmic. Snores follow, the click click of video games continues.&nbsp; Low voices talk on phones with girlfriends back in Chicago.</p><p align="center"><strong>* * *</strong></p><p>While the bus companies in Chicago sell you &ldquo;direct&rdquo; tickets to little towns in Mexico, that doesn&rsquo;t mean you&rsquo;re riding the same bus all the way. In Houston, we all get off.</p><p><em>Si se encuentra Marcela Gálvez, puede pasar a la Taquilla Número 2. Marcela, Marcela Gálvez&hellip;</em>(And continuing over the PA system: &iquest;<em>Tú eres Marcela? &iquest;Es tu mamá?</em> )</p><p>And that&rsquo;s when I meet Eliseo Orejel. He&rsquo;s traveling with his wife and three kids. They&rsquo;re from LaGrange, and it just so happens they&rsquo;re also travelling to Zamora.</p><p>Eliseo is surrounded by suitcases.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Here--everything, up to there. Because we&rsquo;re allowed 400 pounds. Two 40-pound bags per (person), and we&rsquo;re five. I&rsquo;m like 345 pounds. But more than half of this is staying over there, so&hellip;.</em></p><p>Eliseo&rsquo;s kids like the bus.</p><p><em>Do you think we&rsquo;re going to have any adventures on this bus trip?</em> I ask. They immediately know what I mean by &ldquo;adventures.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Yes! I think so!</em> They say. They recount past adventures. <em>Like, one time a wheel popped. We could just feel like the bus was getting lower on the back. And it took a long while. And then it popped again.</em></p><p>I can top that! One time I actually <em>drove</em> the bus. Well, it was a passenger van at that point, but still!&nbsp; The driver wanted to make some extra cash by dropping a señora off at her out-of-the-way village, up in some hills. &nbsp;It was rainy season, and we got stuck in the mud. So I drove, the driver and my husband pushed, and our kids watched from the edge of the muddy farm field.</p><p><em>Los que vienen de Chicago! Las personas que vienen de Chicago! Van a ir con Flecha Roja. Aquí a la Ventanilla 3.</em></p><p>Mexico has a great bus system. The buses are modern. They run on time. Most everything is computerized. These international immigrant buses hand out paper tickets. They oversell seats. They never know how many people to expect, or what their final destinations are.</p><p>After an hour or so in Houston, we are issued new handwritten paper tickets. And we&rsquo;re on our way, though for some reason Eliseo, the guy going to the same place we are, is not on our new bus.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/HANDWRITTEN.jpg" title="" /></div><p><em>Bienvenidos al autobus Flecha Roja...</em></p><p>Our feet are swollen from sitting so long. People doze. Behind me, a señora talks on her cell phone. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Next time I&rsquo;m going by plane,</em> she tells someone.</p><p>The granddaughter traveling with her gets on the phone next, with an older sister. &nbsp;Then there are miles and miles of Vanessa, age 9:&nbsp;</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m so lucky, Lupe&mdash;because you can&rsquo;t touch me. I&rsquo;m all the way over here; you&rsquo;re all the way over there. You can&rsquo;t do nothing. </em></p><p><em>I&rsquo;m bored! </em></p><p><em>Oh, um&hellip; did you find those little ligas to make the bracelet? It&rsquo;s so HOT in here.</em></p><p><em>Lupe, oh! I saw a Marilyn Monroe shirt! It&rsquo;s pretty&hellip;I can&rsquo;t&mdash;I&rsquo;m on the bus! How can I buy it? I&rsquo;m on the bus!</em></p><p>One thing about traveling on these bus lines: Every time we pull into a station, we wonder two things: what will the next bus be like&mdash;are we trading up or down? And when will it leave?</p><p>When we get to McAllen, it&rsquo;s dark already.</p><p><em>Bueno, sí. Buenas noches. Vamos a bajar de esta unidad, se les va a entregar el equipaje, y ésta unidad se va a retirar, y se va a acercar la siguiente unidad, en la que van a abordar&hellip;</em></p><p>Things don&rsquo;t go well. Not everyone fits on the next bus, we&rsquo;re told. Or perhaps it is the luggage that does not fit&mdash;there are conflicting stories. The official says he&rsquo;s only boarding to three cities.</p><p><em>Ahorita se van a subir aquí: Irapuato, Salamanca y Celaya. Tengo otro autobús, no más necesito despachar este primero&hellip; </em></p><p>It does not matter that other destinations, including ours, are practically next door to these three cities, he&rsquo;s only boarding to these three cities. The family from Salvatierra has been told there are no buses there until morning.</p><p><em>&hellip;que para Salvatierra van a salir hasta mañana. &iquest;Cómo lo vamos a hacer?</em></p><p>He promises he has two other buses in the wings, but nobody quite believes him, and nobody wants to sleep in McAllen.</p><p><em>Aquí tengo tres autobuses! Le digo! Los estoy acomodando. </em></p><p>Finally, another bus does show up&mdash;and so does Eliseo Orejel&mdash;the guy with the 345 pounds of luggage.</p><p><em>Nos volvemos a encontrar! What a mess, now it&rsquo;s REALLY messed!</em> he greets us.</p><p>As we get underway, the passengers debate which bus line is the worst.</p><p><em>&iexcl;Ésta es la línea más garra esta que hay! </em></p><p>At this point, we&rsquo;ve been traveling 30 hours. We&rsquo;re 6 hours behind schedule. This is our third bus. &nbsp;And that is the context for what happens next.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p>The driver gets on the loudspeaker.</p><p><em>OK, aaah. &iquest;Me escuchan? </em></p><p>Can you hear me? The driver asks. We&rsquo;re right on the border now.</p><p><em>OK, &iquest;Me escuchan? </em></p><p><em>&iexcl;Sí! </em>the passengers shout.</p><p><em>OK. Damas y caballeros, ah bueno. Aquí es una revisión fiscal. Aquí vamos a bajar con los oficiales de la fiscal, de aquí de la aduana. Me da pena decirles, me dice el oficial que vamos a bajar todo, todo el equipaje que traigan en las cajuelas, todo lo que traigan aquí arriba del autobús también, vamos a pasar a revisión, allí adentro de la banda. </em></p><p>Ladies and gentlemen, he&rsquo;s says. We&rsquo;ve come to a fiscal checkpoint. I hate to tell you this. But the customs official has let me know that we are going to have to take everything&mdash;everything&mdash;off the bus. Everything we have in the compartments underneath the bus, everything inside the bus. And we&rsquo;re going through customs.</p><p><em>Pero, me hace un comentario. Me dice que si le juntamos una cooperación, evitamos bajar todo nuestro equipaje. Ya es a consideración de ustedes. </em></p><p>However, the bus driver says, the customs official has mentioned something: If we take up a little donation, he says, we can avoid customs completely.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Ya eso, ya es a consideración de ustedes. No sé si ustedes quieren, nos juntamos una cooperación para entregarle al oficial, para que no bajemos todo nuestro equipaje. </em></p><p>This kind of shakedown has happened on every bus trip I&rsquo;ve ever taken to Mexico.</p><p><em>How much already?</em> one passenger shouts.</p><p>The driver suggests a $5 donation per person, which passengers revise to $5 per family. We&rsquo;ve been charged $20 per family before, but if you go higher than that, people without much luggage&mdash;or people without anything that might interest a customs official&mdash;start to grumble.</p><p><em>Ténganlo a la mano y yo lo recojo. Ténganlo a la mano.</em></p><p>Have your money out, the driver says. I&rsquo;ll come by to collect.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BRIBE.JPG" title="However, the bus driver says, the customs official has mentioned something: If we take up a little donation, he says, we can avoid customs completely. (Credo Duarte)" /></div><p>Once he&rsquo;s been through the bus, the driver steps out into the cool Reynosa air&mdash;he and another guy in a button-down shirt compare big wads of cash. Inside the bus, the passengers shake their heads and joke.</p><p><em>Welcome to Mexico! &iexcl;Te están dando la bienvenida!</em></p><p>When the driver comes back, we drive right under the checkpoint with the giant red letters that say MÉXICO.</p><p>Incredibly, we change buses two more times after this, including in Monterrey, where a young official tries a trick I have never heard before:</p><p><em>Miren, salidas a Moroleón, Guadalajara, Celaya, Morelia, Cuernavaca, Acámbaro, no hay nada. Está todo lleno aquí en la ciudad de Monterrey. No hay nada hasta para el día 3, 4 de enero&hellip;</em></p><p>He tells us there will be no buses to any destination for 10 days. &nbsp;So when one appears only two hours later and our names are called, it feels like a gift!</p><p><em>Felipe Ortega! Rosa Nuñez! Linda! </em></p><p>Oh, and the LaGrange family going to the same place we are? Not on this bus.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WINDOW%20SIGN.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p>As we get further and further into Mexico, the frustration in the bus dissipates. Along with all the delays there are also homemade tortillas at a roadside restaurant. Barbacoa tacos. Soup. The warm sun. And the thought of piñatas and weddings and quinceañera parties, all the family waiting for us.</p><p><em>It&rsquo;s been a pretty good trip</em>, the guy in front of me says.</p><p>The bus official at our very last stop &ndash;51 hours down, 4 to go&mdash;sees it like this:</p><p><em>Lo bueno es que ya va a llegar a su destino. Que tenga buen viaje, y bienvenida a México. </em></p><p>The good thing is you&rsquo;re almost there. Have a very nice trip. Welcome to Mexico.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p>I was not going to tape on the return trip to Chicago. But I could not help myself when this happened&hellip;</p><p><em>BBBBBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. &nbsp;BEEP. </em></p><p>Buses inside Mexico are equipped with annoying, piercing alarms that sound every time the driver goes over the speed limit. These international immigrant buses don&rsquo;t usually have those alarms. But yep, we got one.</p><p><em>BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.</em></p><p>All night long, no one complained.</p><p>I feel that&rsquo;s a very Mexican response, I tell my Mexican husband.</p><p><em>What would be the point of complaining?</em> he asks. <em>The driver can&rsquo;t do anything but go slower. And we don&rsquo;t want to go slower.</em> But he agrees: if this had been a bus full of gringos, they definitely would have complained.</p><p>The bus beeped all the way to northern Mexico. It was still dark, but ahead I could see a long, thin line of lights running left and right across the highway&mdash; the border.</p><p>The thing about taking the bus to Mexico, you actually physically feel the distance between the two places that make up your life. You feel the border&mdash;with its checkpoints and flashing lights and immigration officials with their walkie-talkies.</p><p><em>Hello, Sir. 10-4, 10-4. </em></p><p>On the way back to Chicago, the bus drivers put on classic Mexican movies, heightening nostalgia for the place we were leaving behind, the narrow black highway stretched out like a thread between Mexico and Chicago, the bus moving along it.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/TORNADO.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></p> Fri, 21 Feb 2014 08:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicago-mexico-bus-109747 Global Activism: 'His Wheels International' provides bicycles for the disabled around the globe http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-his-wheels-international-provides-bicycles-disabled-around <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/GA His Wheels.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Alice Teisan, the founder of His Wheels International, gives us an update on how things have taken off for her since being featured on our Global Activism series last year. Teisan, a former nurse at Rush Hospital in Chicago, was an avid cyclist before she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 1992. But she channeled her passion for bicycling into helping others around the world suffering from disabilities. Alice created<a href="http://www.hiswheels.org" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"> His Wheels International</a> in 2005. The group recycles old bicycles to send overseas.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/135877913&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Thu, 20 Feb 2014 09:23:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-his-wheels-international-provides-bicycles-disabled-around How often are cabs pulled over? And what for? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-often-are-cabs-pulled-over-and-what-109734 <p><p><a name="video"></a><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/0zK8vTcqQck?rel=0" width="620"></iframe><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/135672786&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Listen to this story on the Curious City podcast, including a debrief with question-asker Dan Monaghan and WBEZ reporter Odette Yousef, at minute 5:53 in the audio above.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Dan Monaghan bikes and drives and walks a lot in Chicago. He sees a lot on the road that irritates him, especially from cab drivers. But he doesn&rsquo;t see them getting pulled over all that often. So he wrote in to Curious City with a pretty simple question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How often are taxis pulled over and what is the most often issued offense they receive?</em></p><p>Or at least it seemed simple when we took it on back in August. We figured a simple data request to the right city department would yield a clear-cut conclusion. But nearly a dozen Freedom of Information requests and six months later, here&rsquo;s the answer.</p><p>We don&rsquo;t know.</p><p>(<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Re72di5phM0">cue the crickets</a>)</p><p>But not all is lost. Because what we did learn on this long, strange trip is interesting in its own right. Our investigation afforded us a rare look inside the world of Chicago taxi drivers, and underlines what could be a tough road ahead &ndash; one increasingly <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-threaten-abandon-uber-over-changes-109625" target="_blank">riddled</a> with <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655">potholes</a>, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-threaten-abandon-uber-over-changes-109625" target="_blank">speed</a> <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/silence-medallion-auction-puzzles-some-109546">bumps</a> and yes, the occasional ticket from law enforcement.</p><p>Fasten your seatbelts, and I&#39;ll try to explain.</p><p><strong>The data trail</strong></p><p>The first surprising thing we learned in tackling this question is that there&rsquo;s not one department that contains all the data. The city&rsquo;s Department of Finance has some, the city&rsquo;s Department of Administrative Hearings has some, the city&rsquo;s department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has some, and the Circuit Court of Cook County has some too. Each of these required separate (and sometimes multiple) data requests.</p><p>In addition, the legal codes that underly the citations don&rsquo;t match up across departments. For example, there is an offense under the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/bacp/rulesandregs/publicchauffeursrulesregs20121203.pdf">city&rsquo;s rules for taxi drivers</a> called &ldquo;reckless driving&rdquo; (see Rule CH5.08). There&rsquo;s also a part of the state&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=062500050HCh.+11&amp;ActID=1815&amp;ChapterID=49&amp;SeqStart=102800000&amp;SeqEnd=125900000">vehicle code</a> about &ldquo;reckless driving&rdquo; (Sec. 11-503). But these two things aren&rsquo;t necessarily identical &ndash; and they may not match up with what you, or I, might call &ldquo;reckless driving,&rdquo; were we to witness something on the street.</p><p>To put a finer point on it, the data we got back from the Circuit Court showed only ten citations written in 2012 to cab&nbsp;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/dan and odette.PNG" style="height: 222px; width: 370px; float: right;" title="Dan Monaghan, right, asked Curious City about the most common citations given to cab drivers. WBEZ's Odette Yousef, left, helped answer his question. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" />drivers for &ldquo;reckless driving.&rdquo; But the same data shows 1,433 citations that year for speeding. Some might consider speeding to be reckless driving, but tickets may be written under different parts of the code. Separately, that year the&nbsp;Department of Administrative Hearings shows 996 citations for &ldquo;unsafe driving&rdquo; (which, we&rsquo;ll explain a bit later, may be a vastly underreported figure). But &ldquo;unsafe driving&rdquo; under the city code is quite broad. It may include offenses that, under the state rules, would be filed under &ldquo;reckless driving&rdquo; and speeding.</p><p>This is all to say that even when we do get data, we can&rsquo;t just pool it all together for analysis. The same offenses may be defined differently, depending on whether you&rsquo;re looking at city code or state laws, and even those might not match up with what we, in our own minds, may consider to be dangerous conduct!</p><p><strong>The known knowns</strong></p><p>Most of the violations that taxi drivers get slapped with end up with the City of Chicago, and not with the Circuit Court of Cook County. But let&rsquo;s dwell on the latter violations for a bit, because the vast majority of them are for moving violations. This is likely what Dan was thinking about when he wondered how often taxis are pulled over: how often do police intervene when they see a taxi doing something wrong?</p><p><script id="infogram_0_adjudication-of-taxi-citations-2012" src="//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js" type="text/javascript"></script></p><p>There were more than 7,300 tickets written to taxis that were adjudicated by the Cook County Circuit Court in 2012. They were written out to about 4,300 different vehicles, but when you dig into it, each of those vehicles might have been used by several different drivers over the course of the year. For example, taxi plate 21188TX racked up the highest number of tickets for moving violations adjudicated by the Cook County Circuit Court in 2012 -- thirteen tickets in all. But those tickets were earned by three different people who drove that car.</p><p>Sorting by name doesn&rsquo;t really help either. According to this data, Mohammed Khan received a ton more tickets than anyone else in this data set &ndash; a whopping 27 in one year &ndash; but heavens knows how many Mohammed Khans are driving cabs in Chicago. It&rsquo;s not an uncommon name.</p><p>This makes it difficult for us even to give a range of numbers for taxi drivers who saw tickets. But the City of Chicago has about 7,000 cabs, so the number of times cabs would have been written tickets that headed to the Circuit Court would average out at about once per cab in 2012.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s the thing: not all tickets head to the Circuit Court of Cook County. Police may instead cite a violation of the city code instead, which means the ticket would end up going to the Department of Administrative Hearings. In 2012, that department recorded 996 cases of &ldquo;unsafe driving&rdquo; for taxis. But this does not necessarily mean they all resulted from a police pulling the vehicle over. Some may have. But many may have resulted instead from a 311 call.</p><p>Now, even though Dan asked about how often cabs are &ldquo;pulled over,&rdquo; we took a bit of creative license with his inquiry to find out more broadly what the most common tickets and citation were for cabbies. That is to say, not just tickets that resulted from a cop pulling a cab over, but also ones that may have been issued for parking violations, for example.</p><p><strong>These are things we know that we know</strong></p><p>Parking tickets and red light camera tickets are a big headache for cab drivers in Chicago. The city&rsquo;s Department of Finance tracks this information and provided us with humongous spreadsheets of all those tickets that were written in 2012. Turns out that year, more than 28,000 tickets were written to cab drivers for parking-related violations. This meshed pretty well with what cabbies told us, and helped us unearth a phenomenon we hadn&rsquo;t known of: the so-called &ldquo;fly tickets.&rdquo;</p><p>One driver who explained it to us was Al Smith, who had to file for bankruptcy because of $5,000 in overdue parking tickets alone. Smith noted that over the years, the city has gotten rid of many of its cab stands, eliminating sanctioned places for cabbies to pull into to pick up and drop off passengers. At the same time, Smith contended that the city has become more aggressive in ticketing drivers who pull over in tow zones or other restricted spaces for even brief moments to offload or pick up.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04.jpg" style="float: left; height: 210px; width: 373px;" title="Cab driver Al Smith, right, filed for bankruptcy because of $5,000 in overdue parking tickets alone. Dan Monaghan, left, started this investigation into cab citations with his question for Curious City. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" />&ldquo;See this corner we just passed here at Union Station?&rdquo; he pointed out, &ldquo;The last space of that cab line is designated a tow zone. But they use it like a weapon.&rdquo; Smith explained that the city assigned a traffic enforcement agent specifically at that space to catch cab drivers who pull into that spot. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not parked there. We&rsquo;re just processing there,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;But if they catch you in that space, they will write you a ticket.&rdquo;</p><p>Many cab drivers complained of similar enforcement, noting that city rules allow cab drivers to pull over in restricted spaces for a few minutes to allow passengers on or off. But often the enforcement officers who write up the tickets do not hand them, in-person, to the drivers. Instead, they are posted in the mail, arriving in drivers&rsquo; mailboxes weeks after the offense allegedly occurred. A driver may have picked up and dropped off hundreds of people in the intervening time, and often cannot even recollect where she or he was at the time of the purported offense.</p><p>Red light camera tickets accounted for nearly 9,000 tickets to taxi drivers in 2012. That generated at least $843,000 dollars for the city (cha-ching!). Interestingly, there were a couple of taxis that were each issued 14 red light camera tickets that year alone. Does that count as reckless driving? Maybe. But with the automated ticketing system, the city no longer relies on police to pull them over.</p><p><script id="infogram_0_top-citations-issues-to-taxi-drivers-2012" src="//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js" type="text/javascript"></script></p><p><strong>There are known unknowns</strong></p><p>Aside from the data held by the Circuit Court of Cook County (mostly moving violations) and the Department of Finance (mostly parking and red light cameras), there is also untold amounts of data at the City of Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Administrative Hearings. This department keeps track of all citations issued under the city&rsquo;s Rules and Regulations for <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/bacp/rulesandregs/publicchauffeursrulesregs20121203.pdf">public chauffeurs</a> and for <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/bacp/publicvehicleinfo/medallionowners/medallionlicenseholderrulesregsf20120626.pdf">medallion owners</a>.</p><p>This is where we ran into problems. Despite having data on citations that were issued under those parts of the city code in 2012, the department is incapable of searching their database in useful ways. We submitted multiple requests for data of the top ten violations for taxi drivers in that year. But the department was unable to do this search, and asked us to specify which violations we wanted to know about. Obviously, this is not very helpful.</p><p>However, somewhat inexplicably, the department was able to tell us that the top two violations were for &ldquo;unsafe driving&rdquo; and &ldquo;discourteous conduct.&rdquo; As mentioned earlier, this department adjudicated fewer than 1000 citations for unsafe driving. However, it handled more than 4,000 citations for discourteous conduct.</p><p>But let&rsquo;s complicate this even more. James Mueller once worked for the city, and helped write many of the rules that still govern Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry today. After he retired, he briefly used his lawyering skills to help cab drivers fight citations in the city&rsquo;s Administrative Hearings Court. He told us that this experience was revelatory, because often decisions &ndash; on both sides &ndash; were not reached according to what made the roads safer, but for what was more expeditious.</p><p>Mueller specifically saw this happen with cab drivers who came into the court after being cited for reckless driving. &ldquo;And the city will tell them on a reckless driving [charge], I would say probably 9 times out of 10, unless the person has a &nbsp;bad record, &lsquo;if you plead guilty I&rsquo;ll amend the charge from reckless driving to general simple discourteous conduct and offer a relatively low fine,&rsquo;&rdquo; Mueller said.</p><p>Often, the cab driver would take the deal, said Mueller, because the penalty for discourteous conduct is a relatively minor fine. On the other hand, if the driver were to be found guilty of reckless driving, he or she would have to go back to public chauffeur training school, undergo a physical exam and get a drug test. At the worst, this risks his or her license, and at best, results in a loss of income for several weeks while they try to get reinstated.</p><p>&ldquo;So a lot of those reckless driving charges, whether they happened or not, get shifted to general discourtesy,&rdquo; said Mueller. &ldquo;And that way it&rsquo;s more efficient for the city to handle all of those cases, you get all these guilty pleas, you get all of this money coming in, and that&rsquo;s the way it works.&rdquo;</p><p><script id="infogram_0_taxi-complaints-from-311-calls-2012" src="//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js" type="text/javascript"></script></p><p>We asked the city&rsquo;s Department of Administrative Hearings if they could share data on what the original charges, and what the amended charges were for each of the citations in 2012. It could not provide us with that data. So in the end, the information we received about discourteous conduct and unsafe driving from this source may be completely unreliable.</p><p>One thing this could explain, however, is the enormous mismatch between cab complaints called in via 311, and the violations that the city adjudicates. In 2012, the city took about 14,000 calls about taxis. Half of those were to report reckless driving. Fewer than 1,200 were to report a &ldquo;rude&rdquo; cab driver. Less than 5 percent of those 311 calls ended up with a case being filed with the city&rsquo;s Department of Administrative Hearings. It turns out, the vast majority of 311 callers either don&rsquo;t take note of essential details about the cab that irked them (such as its cab number), or they don&rsquo;t follow through with filling out an affidavit of the complaint.</p><p><strong>Finally, there are also unknown unknowns</strong></p><p>On top of the data we requested (and mostly didn&rsquo;t receive) from the Department of Administrative Hearings, there is a whole spectrum of other violations that a cab driver might receive. Typically, these would be for non-moving violations &ndash; things relating to the condition of his or her vehicle, like whether a tail light is out, or whether there are scratches on the vehicle.</p><p>This may not be what Dan was originally getting at in his question, but it became apparent in talking to people that these kinds of infractions can add up to significant cost and inconvenience for both drivers and cab owners. On the flip side of that coin, they also can add up to hefty revenue for the city. Unfortunately, the Department of Administrative Hearings was unable to provide us with any data falling under this section of the municipal code.</p><p><strong>In sum&hellip;</strong></p><p>In sum, it sounds like taxi drivers are hit with tickets more than other drivers are &ndash; whether they be pulled over by a cop, caught by a red light camera, or later receive a &ldquo;fly ticket&rdquo; in the mail. And it&rsquo;s not just city agents that are keeping an eye on them. They&rsquo;re subject to scrutiny by other drivers, bikers, and pedestrians who call 311 and can report violations.</p><p>The industry, too, has some interest in keeping the worst drivers off the road. Responsible taxi affiliation companies keep track of how safe drivers are, because they don&rsquo;t want to foot higher insurance premiums for the unsafe ones.</p><p>&ldquo;We have to be at an ultimate &ndash; or a heightened &ndash; level of awareness a lot of times,&rdquo; said Smith, the cab driver, &ldquo;which is stressful.&rdquo;</p><p>But Dan&rsquo;s question asked for a number &ndash; how many times cabs are pulled over. And unfortunately we couldn&rsquo;t get that for him. Still, we hope this helps lift the veil a bit on the complicated world of taxi rules and code enforcement.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150); outline: 0px;">@oyousef</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150); outline: 0px;">@WBEZoutloud</a></em></p></p> Wed, 19 Feb 2014 11:58:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-often-are-cabs-pulled-over-and-what-109734 Cab, livery companies sue city over rideshare companies http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare lawsuit.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A group of mostly taxi and livery companies have filed suit against the City of Chicago, claiming that the city has tolerated, and even promoted, &ldquo;unlawful transportation providers&rdquo; to undermine their industries. Their case focuses on technology companies Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, which offer smartphone apps that allow people who need rides to find people with cars, for a fare. The suit claims that the city has denied the plaintiffs equal protection under the law, by forcing them to abide by rules and regulations that have not been applied to the technology companies.</p><p>At the heart of their complaint is the assertion that the companies, which call their services &ldquo;ridesharing,&rdquo; are de facto cab companies.</p><p>&ldquo;This isn&rsquo;t ridesharing,&rdquo; said Michael Shakman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. &ldquo;They sell services 24/7 to the general public, they charge by time and distance, and they&rsquo;re an on-demand service. They&rsquo;re exactly a taxi service, not a rideshare.&rdquo;</p><p>At a press conference Thursday, Shakman accused the city of allowing a taxi &ldquo;caste&rdquo; system to emerge, whereby Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are allowed to focus only on passengers who have credit cards, smartphones, and live in high-income neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;They are not available at all to the disabled or to people who pay with cash,&rdquo; Shakman said. &ldquo;This taxi &lsquo;caste&rsquo; system excludes large portions of the population on racial, economic and disability grounds, and it thereby violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act.&rdquo;</p><p>Also joining the lawsuit is Brad Saul, President of Chicago Disability Transit, a non-profit that provides paratransit options for people with special needs. Saul said on the occasions he attempted to get a car from ridesharing companies, they did not have any that were able to accommodate his wheelchair.</p><p>&ldquo;As a platform, we don&rsquo;t force drivers to use it a certain way,&rdquo; said John Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft, &ldquo;but as a broad platform there&rsquo;s drivers who do support that.&rdquo; Zimmer said in many of the 20 markets where Lyft now operates, there are people who drive wheelchair-accessible vehicles.</p><p>But while Saul and other plaintiffs argue that the companies should have to serve people in all neighborhoods, and with disabilities, the lawsuit also dwells heavily on the economic injury they say they are suffering. Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber&rsquo;s ridesharing service, called uberX, typically are cheaper than taxis, although when demand is high, they use a surge-pricing model that can lead to steeper charges.</p><p>Additionally, there is a relatively low cost of entry for their drivers. Cabbies must have city-issued medallions, currently priced at roughly $350,000 each, as well as mandated insurance, worker&rsquo;s compensation, and vehicles that are no more than four years old. Taxi and livery drivers are also required to attend school and be licensed as public chauffeurs, neither of which are necessary for rideshare drivers.</p><p>Representatives from Lyft and Uber dispute the underlying characterization of their service as a taxi service &mdash; and argue that&rsquo;s why they shouldn&rsquo;t be regulated as cab and livery vehicles.</p><p>&ldquo;A taxi can hail someone from the street, and when you have something like a street hail, it creates different dynamics and different safety requirements,&rdquo; said Zimmer. &ldquo;You don&rsquo;t have choice over the company, you don&rsquo;t have information on the driver, you haven&rsquo;t agreed to a terms of service, and you have a lot less information. And with a service like Lyft, you&rsquo;re choosing to use Lyft, you see information about the driver, about the car, and there&rsquo;s many more differences.&rdquo;</p><p>The lawsuit comes a day after lines of disagreement surfaced at City Hall. Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639">introduced an ordinance to create regulations</a> for the industry, designating a new category of transportation called &ldquo;Transportation Network Providers.&rdquo; The proposal would allow the ridesharing services to continue many of their operations, but would require them to register annually with the city, maintain minimum standards of general commercial and commercial vehicle liability insurance, pay the city&rsquo;s Ground Transportation Tax, and have drivers&rsquo; cars inspected annually.</p><p>Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the proposal falls short, and they don&rsquo;t like the idea of a separate set of rules.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s bad public policy to create a second taxi system designed for the elite who happen to be fortunate enough to live in neighborhoods where taxi drivers are willing to take them,&rdquo; said Shakman.</p><p>At the same City Council meeting, Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Edward Burke (14th) proposed a <a href="https://chicago.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&amp;ID=2902650&amp;GUID=AE467792-6BF2-425E-85C7-6C05D0CFBD3C">resolution </a>calling for the Police Superintendent and Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to immediately apply the existing taxicab rules to the ridesharing services.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to make sure that the consumers are protected,&rdquo; said Beale, &ldquo;and so we need to take the steps on shutting them down and then work towards a solution to make sure they&rsquo;re regulated.&rdquo;</p><p>The resolution is not binding, but will go to a joint committee on Transportation and Finance, of which Beale and Burke are chairs, respectively. As such, they may ask enforcement officials to offer testimony as to why the city has not applied its rules on taxicabs and livery to the ridesharing services.</p><p>Representatives of Uber and Lyft say they expect there will be regulation of their service, and that they are in favor of measures to promote safety. But they say the push by cab and livery companies to have them adhere to the same rules that they do will stifle technological innovation.</p><p>&ldquo;Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans rely on uberX precisely because it is a faster, safer, and cheaper way of getting around their city,&rdquo; wrote Andrew MacDonald, Midwest Regional Manager for Uber, in an e-mail. &ldquo;After years of neglecting Chicago drivers and passengers alike, the taxi industry has resorted to name-calling and frivolous lawsuits. While they spend time in court, we&#39;ll be working with Mayor Emmanuel (sic) to design a forward-looking regulatory regime that creates economic opportunity, prioritizes safety, and ensures access to the best, cheapest rides ever available in the city.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 06 Feb 2014 20:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655