WBEZ | taxis http://www.wbez.org/tags/taxis Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en In tougher market, taxi drivers sue Chicago cab companies http://www.wbez.org/news/tougher-market-taxi-drivers-sue-chicago-cab-companies-109921 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/taxis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago cab drivers today added to the frenzy of litigation that has recently besieged the for-hire transportation industry, filing a federal lawsuit against the city&rsquo;s four largest cab companies. They&rsquo;ve enlisted the help of a Boston labor attorney who has had success in arguing that taxi drivers are inappropriately classified as &ldquo;independent contractors,&rdquo; rather than &ldquo;employees&rdquo; of cab companies. The Chicago drivers seek class-action status, and significant back pay.</p><p>&ldquo;You know, I had a guy pull a gun on me the other day,&rdquo; recounted Karen Chamberlain, a longtime Chicago taxi driver and a plaintiff in the case, &ldquo;and I looked at him, I&rsquo;m going, &lsquo;you better shoot me, because I&rsquo;m not in the mood.&rsquo; And he got out.&rdquo;</p><p>Chamberlain laughs at the incident now, but says it&rsquo;s harder to find the comic relief these days in a job that&rsquo;s always had its share of ups and downs.</p><p>&ldquo;I used to work 4-5 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. Now, to make the same amount of money &ndash; and I&rsquo;m not even making as much &ndash; I&rsquo;m working 7 days a week,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I take three days off a year now. And I&rsquo;m not making the same amount of money. And I&rsquo;m working 10-12 hours a day.&rdquo;</p><p>Amid higher gas prices and a lingering recession, Chamberlain says business has been a struggle. Drivers have not seen an increase in taxi meter rates in eight years, and Chicago voters last week rejected a referendum on the primary ballot to raise fares. But Chamberlain says the city did the most harm when it allowed cab companies to raise lease rates on their vehicles two years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;In 2006 I was paying $450 a week for my taxi. Right now I am paying $752 a week for my cab,&rdquo; Chamberlain said. She also blames newly popular&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0050-9da4-cf44-75a347e40a83">&ldquo;ride sharing&rdquo; companies</a>, such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar, for taking business away from taxis. The companies make smartphone apps that help regular people use their cars for hire.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m sitting there waiting for a fare and some guy with a pink mustache drives up and takes a fare,&rdquo; she said, referring to the fuzzy emblem that Lyft drivers mount on the front of their cars.</p><p>&ldquo;You see cab drivers out there,&rdquo; said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the Boston-based attorney who represents Chamberlain and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re working around the clock, long, long, long hours for very, very, very little pay. And this system of the drivers being classified as independent contractors really contributes (to the problem).&rdquo;</p><p>Liss-Riordan is fighting a similar case on behalf of Boston taxi drivers, and has had some initial success. Last year she got a judge to freeze the assets of Boston&rsquo;s largest taxi fleet owner. The case isn&rsquo;t over yet, but the court said there&rsquo;s a &ldquo;reasonable likelihood&rdquo; that cab drivers were misclassified.</p><p>She says labor laws in Illinois are similar to those in Massachusetts, which is why she believes her plaintiffs here will have a chance. In the Chicago lawsuit, Liss-Riordan expects the question to come down to whether the cab companies can prove that taxi drivers perform their service outside the companies&rsquo; usual place of business.</p><p>&ldquo;The case law in the driving context establishes that the place of business, if you&rsquo;re a driver, is out on the road,&rdquo; said Liss-Riordan. She does not believe that cab companies will be able to prove that cab drivers perform their work anywhere else. The cab companies named in the lawsuit were not prepared to speak with WBEZ on Wednesday.</p><p>The outcome of the lawsuit is likely many years off, but if the drivers prevail, it could have significant repercussions throughout Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry. For starters, cab companies would be required to pay back wages for thousands of cab drivers, dating back to ten years, if it&rsquo;s found that drivers earned less than the hourly minimum wage.</p><p>&ldquo;Tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake,&rdquo; said attorney James Zouras, who is working with Liss-Riordan to represent the drivers. It would also mean that cab drivers would be entitled to overtime pay, among other benefits. Zouras said if a court rules that cab drivers are &ldquo;employees,&rdquo; it would also allow them to unionize.</p><p>Gregory McGee, another plaintiff in the case, has tried to organize Chicago cab drivers for nearly twelve years, with little success. He said a win in the courts could finally give many the confidence to unite. Still, he said he laments the extent to which conditions in the industry have already deteriorated.</p><p>&ldquo;I am now 54 years old, I have no savings, and I have had no days off for practical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;As a matter of fact, I probably have no more than 30 full calendar days off, where I did nothing cab-related, in the almost twelve years now.&rdquo;</p><p>The lawsuit now becomes the second in federal court, where Chicago cab drivers assert that they&rsquo;ve been misclassified. The other,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/cabbie%E2%80%99s-lawsuit-against-chicago-moves-forward-104355" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0050-f8e7-9a90-ac65802c6419">brought by taxi driver Melissa Callahan</a>, seeks to show that cab drivers should properly be classified as employees of the City of Chicago. Liss-Riordan said she is not concerned about having these two suits progressing simultaneously.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s possible for employees to have multiple employers,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;So they&rsquo;re not mutually exclusive.&rdquo;</p><p>McGee said if anything, the two suits bolster taxi drivers&rsquo; argument that the industry needs to be restructured. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s how serious the situation is here, folks, that we have not just one class action (lawsuit) in the Northern District Federal Court here in the Seventh Circuit,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;we have two now, as of today.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0051-42cc-56fa-d64424314b8e">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/tougher-market-taxi-drivers-sue-chicago-cab-companies-109921 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 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 City moves to regulate rideshare companies http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.02.40 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>The days of Chicago&rsquo;s Wild West of ridesharing services may be numbered, if the city has its way. The Mayor&rsquo;s office introduced new rules at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, aimed at bringing the technology companies into the regulatory fold. But the move is already angering some who say the city should use its existing regulations for taxicabs and livery vehicles, rather than create a new set of rules.</p><p>&ldquo;This is a new industry that&rsquo;s still in the early stages and we wanted to step in, create some requirements that provide for public safety and consumer protection, but do that without essentially regulating the industry out of existence,&rdquo; said Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to the Mayor.</p><p>The proposed ordinance creates a new category of commercial vehicle transportation, called &ldquo;Transportation Network Providers,&rdquo; meant for technology companies that connect people who need rides, to people who have cars. Currently, this would include companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, which have operations in Chicago. Unlike taxi drivers, people offering rides with these services use their personal cars, which do not have to be registered with or inspected by the city. The drivers also do not have to undergo training or licensing as public chauffeurs.</p><p>&ldquo;Now that the industry&rsquo;s been up and running for a bit, we want to be able to step in and impose what we think are ultimately some common sense requirements,&rdquo; said Negron, &ldquo;that ensure that when people step into a rideshare vehicle they know that the driver has gotten a background check and the driver&rsquo;s been drug tested and that the vehicle has been inspected and that they&rsquo;re getting the fare disclosed to them.&rdquo;</p><p>The ordinance would require the companies to register with the city and pay an annual $25,000 licensing fee, as well as $25 per driver with their service. It would also subject the companies to the city&rsquo;s ground transportation tax &mdash; $3.50 per day, per vehicle, for each day that the vehicle is used in Chicago for ground transportation. Additionally, the vehicles would have to display signage or an emblem that identifies their ridesharing service, and would have to be inspected annually by the city.</p><p>But perhaps the most significant cost that the rules would require are general commercial liability insurance and commercial automobile liability insurance policies of $1 million per occurrence.</p><p>&ldquo;Uber&rsquo;s existing policy meets that requirement,&rdquo; said Andrew MacDonald, Regional Manager for Uber Midwest. &ldquo;The basic premise is our insurance policy, as designed with our carrier, does cover a driver on an Uber trip regardless of the personal insurance policy.&rdquo; The company, however, declined to share a copy of that policy with WBEZ.</p><p>Several drivers, some of whom asked not to be named because they still drive for&nbsp; UberX and Lyft, told WBEZ that they were offered little or no detailed information about the companies&rsquo; insurance policies when they went through their orientation sessions.</p><p>&ldquo;People asked about what to do if there were problems,&rdquo; one said, &ldquo;but the answer was always to call Lyft Support,&rdquo; a hotline that the service provides for its drivers. &ldquo;They verified my insurance,&rdquo; said another driver for UberX, &ldquo;but never explained anything about what would happen in the case of a very bad accident.&rdquo;</p><p>Lyft, too, claims to carry an insurance policy of $1 million per occurrence, but it is an &ldquo;excess policy&rdquo; that kicks in after the driver&rsquo;s personal insurance has been used. The proposed ordinance would no longer allow this.</p><p>&ldquo;For us, it&rsquo;s like we are completely on board with provisions that increase consumer safety,&rdquo; said MacDonald, referring to the idea of new regulations. &ldquo;But beyond safety issues, I think controls on pricing, overreach on information, limitations on where cars could operate &mdash; all of that stuff starts to be not about safety, but starts to be about protectionism, and doesn&rsquo;t benefit the consumer, and doesn&rsquo;t create jobs, so that&rsquo;s where I get really concerned,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The ordinance proposes that drivers with the services may collect fares determined by distance or time, or that are predetermined, or that are suggested donations. It would no longer allow the companies to apply formulas that calculate fares as a combination of time and distance. It also does not address &ldquo;price-surging&rdquo; or &ldquo;prime time tipping&rdquo; &mdash; a practice where Uber and Lyft hikes their fares when demand is high.</p><p>&ldquo;This ordinance is simply enabling an illegal activity which is a cab-like activity to take place,&rdquo; said Pat Corrigan, owner of The Yellow Group LLC, which operates Yellow Cab in Chicago. &ldquo;So this is not something the cab industry can stand by and see.&rdquo;</p><p>Corrigan and others from Chicago&rsquo;s cab and livery industries say they are prepared to file a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago to compel the city to regulate ridesharing services the same way as their industries.</p><p>&ldquo;The public transportation system, which is the taxi system as you know it, has all these rules and regulations,&rdquo; he continued, &ldquo;including it can&rsquo;t charge more than the meter. UberX, Sidecar and Lyft, can charge basically anything they want.&rdquo;</p><p>Corrigan noted that cab companies must offer worker&rsquo;s compensation, use vehicles that are less than four years old, accept forms of payment other than credit card, and service all neighborhoods of the city &mdash; requirements that are not part of the proposed rules for ridesharing companies.</p><p>The arrival of ridesharing companies has certainly complicated the city&rsquo;s position. Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city has touted itself as technology-friendly, and appears to have dropped early objections to Uber&rsquo;s taxi operations in the city. But at the same time, Chicago brings in tens of millions of dollars each year in taxes and fees from taxis &mdash; an industry whose value rests largely on maintaining the value of the medallions.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s certainly not good for the medallion system,&rdquo; added Corrigan, &ldquo;because you have another system that&rsquo;s competing &mdash; a private system of transportation &mdash; for some of the people in the city that can afford it, competing against the public system.&rdquo;</p><p>Taxicab medallion owners and lenders have been nervously watching the growth of ridesharing in the city, worried that it may undermine the value of their investments. Medallions, which the city issues in limited number to license taxis, are valued at roughly $350,000 apiece.</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> Wed, 05 Feb 2014 09:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639 Cabbies threaten to abandon Uber over changes http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-threaten-abandon-uber-over-changes-109625 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Uber changes.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Once a darling of tech-savvy cab riders and taxi drivers looking for supplemental income, technology company Uber now faces mounting anger from some of those same drivers. The popular taxi-hailing service announced to cabbies via e-mail last week that, effective immediately, it was amending their contracts to include a $10 weekly charge for the data plan of the iPhones that the company issues them. The phones are currently mandatory for drivers that sign up with the service.</p><p>&ldquo;Connecting our partners with hundreds of riders each week does come with a cost,&rdquo; the email states. &ldquo;Since we launched in 2012, Uber has paid $10/week for the cost of data plan for every Chicago TAXI partner on our system, but at this time, this subsidy must end in order to encourage responsible iPhone use and prevent waste.&rdquo;</p><p>The message notes that the $10 deduction from drivers&rsquo; statements will begin this week, and that this policy has already been in effect since October for drivers in the company&rsquo;s livery service, UberBLACK.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to return the phone,&rdquo; said Mohan Paudel, a Chicago cab driver who has used Uber for more than a year. Paudel and several other taxi drivers say that $10 per week is an unreasonably high charge in a business where the margins are already miniscule. Many are now thinking of dropping the service altogether, unhappy with the company&rsquo;s sudden, unilateral approach to changing the terms of their agreements.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m definitely considering stopping working with Uber,&rdquo; said Peter Enger, a longtime Chicago taxi driver and Secretary for the United Taxi Drivers Community Council, a grassroots organization that works on labor issues in the industry.</p><p>&ldquo;I know a lot of cab drivers have gotten kind of fed up with their corporate practices. They&rsquo;re now no longer open for business, you cannot just go and consult with them except by appointment,&rdquo; he added. Enger and others complain that the company is difficult to reach with questions, and that often staff are discourteous when they respond to questions.</p><p>Andrew MacDonald, Uber&#39;s Midwest Regional General Manager, did not respond to questions from WBEZ about the change in policies, and did not follow up on a request for an interview.</p><p>But in the e-mail to taxi drivers, the company argues that the new charge for the data plan is reasonable because the service has allowed drivers to take home greater pay. &ldquo;We understand that every cent counts when it comes to your hard earned dollars that need to be spent on your food, housing, education, and your families,&rdquo; it states. &ldquo;Did you know that you earn as much as 7.5% more per Uber request compared to other fares paid via credit card?&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But we&rsquo;re not making more money because we have to spend more time for the Uber customers,&rdquo; countered Paudel, &ldquo;because we have to go there and wait for two minutes, maybe sometimes ten minutes, and get the fare, which is&mdash; we&rsquo;re wasting a lot of time on that, too.&rdquo;</p><p>Other drivers agree that they typically have to wait longer when they arrive at a pickup location for customers that summon them through the Uber app. They also say they often waste time getting to Uber calls, only to have them cancelled at or before arrival. They say that Uber promises to pay them $5 for cancelled fares, but they rarely see that payment. Paudel says the new $10 charge, on top of these inconveniences, will add up to less weekly revenue than if he simply dropped Uber altogether.</p><p>The Uber notification also stated that drivers will be charged the weekly amount for the data plan regardless of whether they turn on the Uber device to take any calls in a week. Paudel said that&rsquo;s not fair if he decided to take a week off. He suggested that Uber instead increase the percentage that it takes from taxi drivers&rsquo; fares, currently 2.5 percent of the metered amount.</p><p>Still, it&rsquo;s not clear that taxi drivers abandoning the service would do much harm to the company. Since launching its taxi service in April 2012, the company also introduced its UberX ridesharing service, which matches passengers with non-taxi drivers. Many in the taxi industry fear that ridesharing services such as UberX, and competitors Lyft and Sidecar, directly threaten their business.</p><p>Last week, Uber announced that it was slashing its UberX fares&mdash;already lower than taxi meter rates&mdash;by 15 percent. The move follows accusations that the company engaged in price gouging on New Years Eve and in recent days with particularly inclement weather. UberX employs a surge pricing model when demand for rides peaks.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef</a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" target="_blank">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 03 Feb 2014 10:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-threaten-abandon-uber-over-changes-109625 Silence on medallion auction puzzles some http://www.wbez.org/news/silence-medallion-auction-puzzles-some-109546 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Taxi medallion_140120_oy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Taxi industry insiders have their suspicions about why the City of Chicago is holding out on results of a medallion auction held three months ago.</p><p>&ldquo;I believe the medallion auction did not go according to the plans that the city had,&rdquo; said Charles Goodbar, an attorney who specializes in medallion sales.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/economy/taxi-fleet-owners-wary-emanuels-revenue-idea-103081">hoped to raise</a> at least $18 million for city coffers to close the 2013 budget hole by auctioning fifty medallions.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection set the starting bid for the licenses at an <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/wanna-buy-cab-shell-out-least-360k-108681">eye-popping $360 thousand</a> apiece&mdash;nearly twice what it was when the city last auctioned medallions in 2010. That time around, the winning bids were made public within a month of the auction.</p><p>The BACP promised similarly to publicize results of the more recent auction within weeks of the end of the bidding period. But WBEZ received a response on Friday to a Freedom of Information Act request about the bids. The city still appears to be far from publicizing the results of the auction.</p><p>&ldquo;No information or documents may be released until all medallion sales have closed,&rdquo; the letter states. &ldquo;Therefore, at this point in time, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection cannot disclose any bid submission documents.&rdquo;</p><p>Goodbar said he has heard almost nothing from the medallion-financing circles about serious loans to any bidders. He believes that the city would have publicized the results of the auction if it had received any viable bids. Meanwhile, Goodbar says the private medallion market has maintained a healthy level of activity.</p><p>The industry, said Goodbar, reads this as a sign that interested medallion buyers want as little to do with the city as possible.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m thinking people are reluctant to give the city $18 million, when the city doesn&rsquo;t listen to the industry&rsquo;s concerns,&rdquo; he noted.</p><p>Goodbar cited the city&rsquo;s reluctance to regulate relatively new ride-sharing services in Chicago, such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, despite the pleas of cab owners. Many owners believe those startups are eating into their market share.</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> Mon, 20 Jan 2014 11:57:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/silence-medallion-auction-puzzles-some-109546 Cabbies worry voter referendum could kill proposed fare hike http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-worry-voter-referendum-could-kill-proposed-fare-hike-109335 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cab fare increase.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicagoans will be able to weigh in on whether they think the city should increase cab fare rates &ndash; an issue that cab drivers have been pushing for years now. But rather than see this as a promising move forward, taxi drivers say the referendum could amount to a death wish for their cause.</p><p>&ldquo;Who wants anything increased?&rdquo; said George Kasp, a Chicago cab driver of forty years. &ldquo;Food prices? Taxes? Taxi rates? Nobody wants to see increases.&rdquo;</p><p>Kasp proposed a <a href="https://chicago.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1020582&amp;GUID=8BEEA352-489F-44C5-8D66-C7563B9E6D0E&amp;Options=Advanced&amp;Search=">citizen&rsquo;s ordinance</a> in April to increase fares 13 percent, but it has stalled. He says putting the issue to voters instead doesn&rsquo;t make sense.</p><p>&ldquo;I think there&rsquo;s more important issues to put on a referendum than asking if cab drivers need a meter rate increase,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The exact wording of the referendum gives voters a sense of cabbies&rsquo; longstanding complaint: &ldquo;Should the City of Chicago increase taxi rates, which would be the first increase in eight years and bring Chicago&#39;s taxi fleet in line with other cities?&rdquo;</p><p>The economics of the cab business have undergone significant shifts in the last decade. Almost a year ago, the city made a one-dollar fuel surcharge on fares permanent. It also increased the maximum amount that cab owners may charge drivers to lease their vehicles.</p><p>Meanwhile, many cabbies are using more fuel-efficient vehicles. But they cite the the shortage of drivers, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-hunt-taxi-recruits-105421">roughly 2,000 by the city&rsquo;s estimate</a>, as evidence that the economics of the job are not attractive to potential recruits. They argue that higher rates could fix that.</p><p>&ldquo;We do understand that it&rsquo;s hard times for everybody, so we have to be conscious not only of the cab drivers, but the people who are paying for these cabs on a day-to-day basis,&rdquo; said Alderman Anthony Beale (9th).</p><p>Beale chairs the City Council&rsquo;s Transportation Committee and sponsored the resolution behind the referendum.</p><p>Beale said the referendum is non-binding &ndash; so whatever voters choose will not necessarily be the decision that the City Council follows. Still, Beale said voter opinion is a critical piece of information that city officials must know before taking any action.</p><p>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>.</p></p> Mon, 09 Dec 2013 19:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-worry-voter-referendum-could-kill-proposed-fare-hike-109335 With no rules of the road, Chicago’s pedicabs thrive http://www.wbez.org/news/no-rules-road-chicago%E2%80%99s-pedicabs-thrive-106557 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 8.37.11 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>As winter slowly melts into spring, you&#39;ll see them around Chicago with greater frequency. Hanging around after Bulls games and theater performances, armed with heated blankets and bicycle bells. More than a few showed up outside Wrigley Field at the Cubs home opener on Monday. With warm weather on the way, not to mention baseball games and endless music festivals, Chicago&rsquo;s pedicabs are ready to take over the streets again.</p><p>The giant tricycles with room for two in the back, have become a fixture in Chicago over the last few summers. It&rsquo;s not just the flat terrain and lazy tourists. Unlike other major metropolises, Chicago has yet to pass any ordinance regulating pedicabs. That means there are no rules on the books about where they can go, what they can charge, or how to make them safe.</p><p>Those non-existent rules are a mixed bag according to the pedicabbers themselves. Some worry it could lead to lax safety standards and inconsistent fare pricing, which only hurts their reputation. Yet that same freedom from regulation, others argue, is why the industry is doing so well in Chicago.</p><p>To learn what this means for pedicabs and passengers alike, I decided to go for a ride. Darren Hilton, who has been a bike messenger and pedicab driver for fifteen years, picked me up one recent afternoon in his yellow pedicab at Navy Pier. Except, he couldn&rsquo;t actually pick me up on the pier where WBEZ is located. Apparently, pedicabs aren&rsquo;t allowed there according to the Chicago Parks District. It&rsquo;s one of the few hard and fast rules for pedicabs in Chicago.</p><p>Darren, who has long dreads, and wore a black silk shirt with a red dragon on the back, knows those rules (or lack thereof) better than most. He also has a keen appreciation for his pedicabs&rsquo; origins.</p><p>&ldquo;I like rickshaw, because of the ethnic connotation,&rdquo; Darren told me, &ldquo;Rickshaw is Japanese from jinrikisha which means human power. So a ballpoint pen is a jinrikisha. A hairbrush is a jinrikisha. Human powered.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>My human-powered transportation first headed north toward Water Tower Place and the Magnificent Mile, a typical route for the tourists who make up the majority of the pedicab driver&rsquo;s customer base. Pedicabs are perfect for short distance trips, like moving party goers from bar to bar. But Darren has hopes that one day, pedicabs will be seen less as a tourist activity and more as a viable industry. But for that to happen, he says, there have to be regulations, especially when it comes to price.</p><p>Because there are no rules regulating what pedicab drivers can charge, it&rsquo;s much easier to gouge prices in Chicago than in other cities. Pedicabbers who live in the city say some out-of-towners come to Chicago&nbsp; for the summer months and charge exorbitant prices and give the industry a bad name. And even well-meaning drivers say their rates can change based on weather, terrain, and the weight of the load - not to mention, how much they like the customer. In New York, pedicabbers charge by the minute. Darren says having regulations in place would help make the industry more reliable, and therefore more vibrant.</p><p>Chicago has had two shots at a pedicab ordinance before, neither of which made it through City Council. The biggest point of contention for the pro-pedicab interests was a restriction that would prevent pedicabs from operating in the Loop during rush hour. Some say the cabs contribute to gridlock, but Darren says especially with the help of protected bike lanes, pedicabs actually move faster than cars and can help commuters get to their destination more directly. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s all about maneuverability,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>But as we headed south over the Michigan Avenue bridge, where honking cars and speeding busses grew increasingly closer, I asked Darren how he was sure that we were safe.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not been an industry that&rsquo;s been as internally regulated as it could have been,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;As a customer, you don&rsquo;t know the difference between something that looks sound, and something that is.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Most garages that rent pedicabs require insurance that protects passengers, but it&rsquo;s not mandated citywide, and the drivers are rarely protected. Darren says he&rsquo;s only ever heard of one pedicab injury in which a car was involved, and the Chicago Police Department say they don&rsquo;t keep a record of pedicab related accidents.</p><p>The police and pedicabbers primarily interact &mdash; and clash &mdash; over traffic laws. There are a lot of laws that are hard to enforce for pedicabs, which tends to make for fractious relationships, says Darren. &ldquo;They just make it up. They&rsquo;re not bad guys, but there&rsquo;s no book. That&rsquo;s the thing. And they&rsquo;re responsible for their beat. But they can&rsquo;t enforce something that just doesn&rsquo;t exist.&rdquo;</p><p>Natalie Moberg is a bike messenger and pedicab driver who loves the freedom of being an independent contractor. During the summer, she and her fellow cab drivers make most of their money picking up Cubs fans after games at Wrigley Field.</p><p>&ldquo;Most officers like us. We get&nbsp; the drunk people out of the stadium area. We get &lsquo;em gone,&rdquo; says Moberg.</p><p>But one day last August, Natalie learned what happens when the rules are left up in the air. She says she was waiting with other pedicabbers outside Wrigley Field, when a police officer drove up and confronted them.</p><p>&ldquo;Officer Healy drives up, he gets out of his vehicle and says we can&rsquo;t be on the street there, and I say, well, where would you like us to go, and he says, on the sidewalk.&rdquo;</p><p>Natalie says that didn&rsquo;t make any sense, since not even bicycles are allowed on sidewalks.</p><p>&ldquo;So, he&rsquo;s starts spouting out how like it&rsquo;s all listed at the police station and I interrupted him and, I asked wait wait, there&rsquo;s regulations? There&rsquo;s no regulations in the city of Chicago.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Natalie says that, although she was arrested, the charges were dropped when the officer failed to appear in court. The judge, she added, was confused about whether it was a car or a bike that had been impounded. Natalie is waiting until she gets a drivers license to return to pedicabbing, which is something the garage she leases from wants her to have for insurance purposes.</p><p>Despite her run-in with the cops, Natalie isn&rsquo;t ready to support certain regulations. &ldquo;I think that would kill the spirit of the industry in Chicago. We&rsquo;re the Wild West, and overall,&rdquo; she says, &ldquo;it seems like more of a headache.&rdquo;</p><p>But Chicago transit experts say, while regulations might be a pain, they&rsquo;re important to help build a diverse transit system in which people have options for how to get around. Joe Schwietermann, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul, says pedicabs are, &ldquo;part of the explosion of innovation we&#39;re seeing in transportation, a lot of creative solutions to get people around.&rdquo; He says pedicabs are an especially promising solution for traveling short-to-medium distances in dense urban environments.</p><p>But Schwietermann also has concerns about over-regulating the budding pedicab industry.</p><p>&quot;It&rsquo;s interesting how when things sound really good in Chicago you put it in the meat grinder of city hall, and something else come out,&quot; he says, &quot;and I think that&rsquo;s the big risk here.&rdquo;</p><p>Schwietermann points to last year&rsquo;s food truck ordinance as an example. He believes the City Council&#39;s regulations for mobile food vendors were too strict and thus hurt the growth of an industry that has flourished in other cities. (Check out WBEZ&#39;s coverage of the food truck regulations <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/are-new-regulations-helping-or-hurting-city%E2%80%99s-food-truck-industry-105265" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p><p>As for the pedicabs, City Hall says there are a number of interested parties &mdash; pedicab garage owners, motor vehicle cab owners, aldermen, and more &mdash; at work on an ordinance, but nobody could say for sure what it might include, or when it will be announced. So for now, pedicabbers like Darren Hilton are making it up as they go along.</p><p>&quot;We&rsquo;re not bad people, we&rsquo;re young. We&rsquo;re 5 year-old dictators. Whatever we say goes. We don&rsquo;t realize the repercussions of our actions,&quot; Darren says. But in terms of building a long-term, stable industry with a reputation as fair business operators, he adds, &quot;It always comes back to us, whatever we&rsquo;ve done.&quot;</p><p>As we headed back toward Navy Pier from Ogilvie Station, we breezed by cars and taxi cabs stuck in rush hour traffic, most of whom were presumably trying to get onto trains and out of the city. Darren says it&#39;s a prime example of a profitable niche that pedicabs could fill.</p><p>&quot;All these people you see right here are potential customers, but the cabs are full. You can&rsquo;t get a cab coming this way. And then if you get in a cab, you&rsquo;re sitting there,&quot; he says. &quot;It&rsquo;s not the same as being where you want to be. You need maneuverability.&quot;</p><p>If some of the aldermen who want to restrict Darren&#39;s ability to do business in the Loop during rush hour and in other areas of the city succeed, however, that maneuverability is going to be seriously restricted. As we rolled up to Navy Pier, I realized just how big a change that would be for the city&#39;s rickshaw cowboys.</p><p>&quot;Now this is like halfway legal in a manner of speaking,&quot; said Darren, as he tried to sneak me down the pier to the front door of WBEZ. But just as he spoke, a security guard blocked our path and turned us back around with a stern warning: &quot;These carts are not allowed!&quot;</p><p>Sooner or later, there will probably be no such thing as &lsquo;halfway legal&rsquo; for the pedicabbers of Chicago &mdash; only legal and illegal. Whether the industry can thrive, or just survive, remains to be seen.</p></p> Tue, 09 Apr 2013 08:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/no-rules-road-chicago%E2%80%99s-pedicabs-thrive-106557 Chicago on the hunt for taxi recruits http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-hunt-taxi-recruits-105421 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F78329062&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><br /><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/P1000734_2.JPG" style="height: 206px; width: 275px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Hocine Drouche said he won’t consider taxi driving as a profession for himself, but it could help him pay for his college tuition. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef) " />Chicago is short 2,000 cab drivers, according to City Hall. To get more recruits in the driver&rsquo;s seat, the city co-hosted Thursday&rsquo;s Taxi Driver Recruitment Day at Olive Harvey College.</p><p>There, Mayor Rahm Emanuel awarded longtime cab driver Imran Mirza with the Taxicab Driver Excellence Award. The other prize that Mirza gets? A taxi medallion.</p><p>A medallion is a city license to own and operate a cab, and having one could change Mirza&rsquo;s life in a big way. &ldquo;I felt great,&rdquo; said Mirza. &ldquo;After so many years of hard work, I&rsquo;m very happy.&rdquo;</p><p>Mirza played it cool, but the truth is, most of the city&rsquo;s 6,600 cab drivers don&rsquo;t have medallions because they&rsquo;re too expensive, costing around $360,000 each.</p><p>Most drivers lease their cabs from medallion owners, and only take home what they earn after paying the lease and for gas. Mirza did that for 14 years, starting work at 5:30 a.m. and working 12-hour days.</p><p>Mirza said becoming a cab owner will bring big changes to his family of five. &ldquo;Being an owner, it gives you more flexibility, and you&rsquo;re making your own decisions and you can depend on something,&rdquo; he explained, &nbsp;&ldquo;And it&rsquo;s good in another way that I can have another driver.&rdquo;</p><p>Mirza hopes his fortune inspires others to get into the business, and so does the city. Rosemary Krimbel, Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, says there&rsquo;s been a steady decline of drivers in recent years.</p><p>Krimbel thinks part of that may be due to perceptions about the job. &ldquo;Cab drivers, sometimes they take the job part-time while they&rsquo;re going through college, and then maybe they just kind of end up [driving taxis],&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I want it to be a choice. I don&rsquo;t want this to be a job that you end up doing because you can&rsquo;t find anything else. I want you to choose to be a cab driver.&rdquo;</p><p>Krimbel says the mandatory public chauffeur training for taxi drivers has been revamped to focus more on customer service. She says she wants people to think of cab driving not as a job &mdash; but as a &ldquo;profession.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Not me, I&rsquo;m just doing it to pay for my school,&rdquo; said 22-year old Northeastern Illinois University student Hocine Drouche. &ldquo;Whenever I&rsquo;m done, I&rsquo;ll just go and work whatever I want to work.&rdquo;</p><p>Several attendees at the recruitment fair said they were students, too, hoping to earn some income while they study. So it may take time to change the perception of cab driving to more than a backup option.</p><p>As for Imran Mirza?</p><p>&ldquo;To tell you the truth,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;nobody will come here and say &lsquo;I&rsquo;m going to be a cab driver for the next 40 years.&rsquo; I don&rsquo;t think so. But it&rsquo;s a good middle step, I would say. And it keeps your family going.&rdquo;</p></p> Thu, 07 Feb 2013 19:59:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-hunt-taxi-recruits-105421