WBEZ | Odette Yousef http://www.wbez.org/tags/odette-yousef Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago SRO owners say proposed city ordinance is 'hostile' http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SRO ordinance.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6a96fd4e-5c8e-a95a-a0fa-12b9a087e263">A new City Hall plan to preserve <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/slow-disappearing-act-chicago-sro-105836">fast-vanishing</a> affordable housing units in single-room occupancy (SRO) and residential hotels has some Chicago SRO owners upset.</p><p>The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance, to be introduced at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, includes incentives to induce building owners to maintain a certain threshold of affordable units in their buildings. There are few specifics about those incentives, but much of the measure focuses on financial penalties that owners would face if the number of affordable units in their buildings falls below a mandated percentage.</p><p>&ldquo;Essentially what has happened is the city wants to change the rules in the middle of the game,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation, which works with building owners, operators and tenants to preserve SRO housing in Chicago. &ldquo;The properties are going to be dropping substantially in value because of the proposed ordinance, as now written,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Under the proposal, owners who wish to demolish or convert their properties to market-rate rentals would be required to maintain at least 20 percent of the building&rsquo;s units as affordable, or else pay a $200,000 &ldquo;preservation fee&rdquo; for every unit that falls short of that threshold. Additionally, if an owner wishes to sell a building, it would allow non-profits first crack at purchasing it and would require the owner to engage in good-faith negotiations with those organizations. If no sale occurs within six months of notifying non-profits, then the owner may attempt to sell the property to private developers.</p><p>&ldquo;The private market often moves too quickly for these non-profits to pull together the financing,&rdquo; explained Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, &ldquo;and so we wanted to make sure that there was enough period of time for these organizations to actually&hellip; know a sale is coming, and then work with potential lenders, work with the city, work with the state. There are different parties that could potentially help put together a deal like that, but they just need the time to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>The proposal would allow building owners to bypass this process altogether, and to approach the private market first, if they pay a fee of $200,000 on each unit for 30 percent of the units in the building. But many current owners fear that these fines will drastically undercut the selling price of their buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;The property values will have plunged based on the market being so restricted, that the only option essentially for a current owner when he or she is ready to sell is to turn to a non-profit,&rdquo; worried Rubenstein, &ldquo;and the non-profit could offer nickels or dimes on the dollar.&rdquo;</p><p>All fees collected through the proposed ordinance would go to a preservation fund, which the city would use to assist SRO owners with defraying the cost of maintaining, developing or improving their properties. Negron said, additionally, that the city already may have existing resources to preserve at least 700 SRO units through the end of 2018. He said owners may call the city&rsquo;s Department of Planning and Development to discuss rental subsidies from the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, and financing from TIF districts and low-interest loans, to maintain affordability.</p><p>Rubenstein said he and other building owners had hoped the city would employ more incentives than penalties to encourage affordability. He said SRHAC submitted a list of 15 suggested incentives for the city to consider in its ordinance, including exemptions from sales taxes, water fees, and the proposed minimum wage ordinance. Negron said many of the suggestions were impractical.</p><p>A broad coalition of advocates for the homeless, and low-income tenants around Chicago, praised the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a great ordinance,&rdquo; said Adelaide Meyers, a former tenant of the Norman Hotel and affordable housing advocate. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s exactly what Chicago needs to maintain SROs throughout the city, because if we lose all our SROs we&rsquo;re going to have a lot of homeless people.&rdquo;</p><p>Meyers was herself displaced from the Norman Hotel when Cedar Street Co. bought the North Side property and converted it to upscale rentals within its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475">FLATS portfolio</a>. Meyers now shares an apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood with a friend, and with some rental assistance from her father.</p><p>&ldquo;I never thought that I would end up living in an SRO to start off with, but I lived in a few different ones for several years,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So I could definitely end up back in an SRO.&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> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 Quinn vetoes 'Uber Bill,' some cry for override http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-vetoes-uber-bill-some-cry-override-110700 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Supporters of limits to rideshare services in Illinois vowed Monday to push for an override of Governor Pat Quinn&rsquo;s veto of the so-called &ldquo;Uber Bill.&rdquo;</p><p>The <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-passes-ride-sharing-rules-110191" target="_blank">bill</a>, which would have affected popular technology platforms such as Uber and Lyft, would have forced rideshare companies to track more closely how many hours each of their drivers spent behind the wheel in the state, and to comply with safety standards similar to those required in the taxi industry. Supporters of the bill blasted Quinn&rsquo;s decision, saying it was motivated out of a concern for votes in the November gubernatorial election, rather than out of concern for public safety.</p><p>&ldquo;Governor Quinn is making the decision solely because of politics,&rdquo; said State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-11). &ldquo;Governor Quinn has decided (he&rsquo;s) not doing well in the polls, and based on his political advisors and lobbyists that he needs the &lsquo;lakefront liberals&rsquo; to come out in big numbers for him, and maybe that&rsquo;s what this is about.&rdquo;</p><p>Sandoval said he will push to have <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&amp;SessionId=85&amp;GA=98&amp;DocTypeId=HB&amp;DocNum=4075&amp;GAID=12&amp;LegID=77989&amp;SpecSess=&amp;Session=" target="_blank">HB 4075/5331</a> on the General Assembly&rsquo;s override calendar in November. The Illinois House passed the measure 80-26 in June, and would require only 71 votes for an override. The Senate passed the measure 46-8, and would require only 36 to override.</p><p>But in his veto statement, Quinn said he objected to the bill&rsquo;s pre-emption of &ldquo;home rule,&rdquo; meaning that it would prohibit local municipalities from creating or enacting their own regulations for rideshare services. &ldquo;A statewide regulatory framework should only be considered when it is clear that it is not possible to address the problem at the local level,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;At this point, there is not yet enough evidence to make a judgment about the effectiveness of local ordinances in dealing with the challenges of ridesharing technologies.&rdquo;</p><p>The bill would have required rideshare companies to closely track how many hours each of their drivers averaged on their platforms. Those who offered rides more than 36 hours every two weeks would have to comply with safety regulations similar to taxi drivers &mdash; namely, obtaining a public chauffeur&rsquo;s license, getting fingerprinted and submitting to a criminal background check. Additionally, the companies would have to provide commercial liability insurance identical to that which is required for taxis, for all its drivers -- regardless of how many hours they spend on the platform.</p><p>Several Chicago taxicab medallion owners joined Sandoval in protesting Quinn&rsquo;s veto, saying they believed Quinn&rsquo;s track record as a champion of consumer rights and safety would have led to a different outcome. But many believe that the issue has become politicized &mdash; even briefly becoming campaign trail grist by Quinn&rsquo;s Republican opponent Bruce Rauner &mdash; such that the governor had little choice but to veto it. They said they are confident that the General Assembly will override.</p><p>Ehsan Ghoreishi, a Chicago taxi driver of ten years and former medallion owner, said the state sanctioning of rideshare companies will ultimately be bad for labor. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m a taxi driver, I lease from big companies,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m sure there&rsquo;s some exploitation, and it&rsquo;s not a clean industry. But the question is: Do I prefer to work with a guy who owns 600 medallions? But I can reach him &mdash; he&rsquo;s a tangible person, I can call his office, I can go make a complaint. Or, do I want to be exploited by a guy that I cannot reach in any tangible fashion?&rdquo;</p><p>Indeed, changes that Uber and Lyft made to their fare and revenue structures this summer have alienated some of their most devoted drivers. Uber slashed its fares 15 percent, and started charging $10 each week for use of the data plan on iPhones that it issues to each driver. Chris Taylor, General Manager for Uber Chicago, said the price experiment has resulted in a greater number of people using their platform to get around. In other words, while drivers may earn less per ride, they&rsquo;re getting more rides.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re confident that drivers on average will still have the ability to earn, on average, double minimum wage in Illinois in fares per hour,&rdquo; he said. Additionally, to offset the smaller earnings per ride, Taylor said Uber has negotiated discounts on gas, maintenance services and car washes for its drivers.</p><p>But Dan Burgess, who has driven for both Uber, Lyft, as well as a third competitor, Sidecar, said he and other drivers are definitely not earning double Illinois&rsquo; $8.25 minimum wage. &ldquo;If you take into account our car expenses for fuel and wear and tear, we&rsquo;re probably netting about $10 an hour,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just not a worthwhile experience for us anymore.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, relatively <a href="https://chicago.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1657453&amp;GUID=48EE4E9D-5D88-4001-8753-74FA1D4C47AF" target="_blank">light regulations</a> for the industry are set to take effect Tuesday in the City of Chicago. The rules would require the companies to apply for different classes of licenses, depending on how many hours their drivers, in aggregate, average. Companies whose drivers average fewer than 20 hours per week would be allowed to continue mostly as they already do. Both Uber and Lyft are working to gain this type of license.</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="http://www.twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 18:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-vetoes-uber-bill-some-cry-override-110700 Chicago Iraqis react to deepening crisis back home http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-iraqis-react-deepening-crisis-back-home-110384 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Local Iraqis_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the U.S. will dispatch 300 military advisers to Iraq to help fight a fast-moving Islamist insurgency. The news could provide some hope to local Iraqis in Chicago, who have watched the deteriorating situation back home with increasing alarm.</p><p>The night before Mr. Obama&rsquo;s announcement, a group of them came together to talk about their anguish at the deepening crisis in Iraq.</p><p>They met in an unmarked storefront right next to 50th ward alderman Debra Silverstein&rsquo;s office on Devon Avenue, in the West Ridge neighborhood. A call to a phone number on a flier in the window resulted in a fellow named Deeyah Qasim calling back. He said he was eager to talk to a reporter about Iraq, and would be at the empty office at 4:30 p.m.</p><p>In fact, Qasim gathered at least 40 Iraqis into the space &ndash; formally registered as the Baghdad Bridge Organization. A medical technician, Qasim arrived in the U.S. two years ago as a refugee from Baghdad.</p><p>The meeting space is comfortable, if sparsely decorated. The floors are covered with carpets, the walls with colorful fabrics. He installed a door to partition a space for women in the back, from men in the front, in keeping with their Islamic cultural norms.</p><p>Qasim explained that their gatherings at the space started with his and four other families, who got together socially. He said they decided it would be good for Chicago&rsquo;s growing Iraqi refugee community to broaden the gatherings, so they pooled together money out of their own pockets, formed a 501(c)3 non-profit, and rented the space.</p><p>&ldquo;They are meeting together and talking,&rdquo; he said, when asked to describe what people do at the center. &ldquo;And we give our kids like culture. Because we don&rsquo;t like to lose our special culture for the Middle East thing, OK? We give our children Arabic language, too, we have many classes&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>Normally, the space is only open on Thursday and Friday evenings, after work hours. But on a Wednesday evening, men and women lined the walls, hoping to share their concerns about recent events in Iraq. One of them was Asaad Al-Ibrahimi, a refuge from Baghdad who came to the U.S. less than a year ago. He spoke Arabic, and 25-year old Shaker Alshummary translated into English.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s affected him immensely,&rdquo; Alshummary translated for Al-Ibrahimi, &ldquo;and he has people in Mosul &ndash;&nbsp;family members that have died. And it&rsquo;s took a toll on him mentally, and physically he can&rsquo;t work.&rdquo;</p><p>Al-Ibrahimi said he has been so distraught, he took a leave of absence from his warehouse job, and hasn&rsquo;t been to work since June 12. He said many of his young cousins went to Mosul to fight against militant Islamists from a group sometimes referred to as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They captured Iraq&rsquo;s second-biggest city last week. One of Al-Ibrahimi&rsquo;s cousins, newly married, was killed.</p><p>When asked whether he felt the U.S. should send soldiers to Iraq, Al-Ibrahimi responded in broken English, &ldquo;I hope. I hope (the U.S.) send(s) soldiers to Iraqi.&rdquo;</p><p>In fact, he said even though he&rsquo;s 46 years old and a grandfather of three, he would join the U.S. army if it sends troops there.</p><p>But not all agree that this would be an appropriate move. &ldquo;Actually we don&rsquo;t need soldiers, just we need support,&rdquo; said Qasim, &ldquo;like diplomatic support and equipment support.&rdquo;</p><p>Qasim and many others said they&rsquo;ve been frustrated watching the news play out from afar. He said all he can really do is implore Iraqis through his Facebook page, or via e-mail, to work together to resist the armed opposition to Iraq&rsquo;s government. &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t give the chance for the terrorist people to have control for another city,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Qasim and many others blamed &ldquo;foreign terrorists&rdquo; for the recent wave of violence in Iraq, and said they&rsquo;ve been aided by arms and other support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular. Most shared Qasim&rsquo;s sentiment that if Iraq&rsquo;s Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Kurds and Christians come together, they can drive the militants out.</p><p>But Hakim Hammadi disagreed.</p><p>&ldquo;All the Sunnah in Iraq, they are feeling they are outside the square of government,&rdquo; he said, referring to Iraq&rsquo;s Muslim minority group. Hammadi blamed Iraq&rsquo;s Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for excluding Sunnis and other minorities from sharing power. &ldquo;This the wrong balance to government in Iraq,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hammadi was the lone Sunni in the group on Wednesday night, and he dismissed others&rsquo; claim that &ldquo;foreign terrorists&rdquo; caused the problem. The 60-year old attorney, who came to the U.S. as a refugee two years ago, was also a member of the Ba&rsquo;athist Party, which ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein.</p><p>Despite their assurances that Iraqis of Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Christian backgrounds all partake congenially in activities at the Baghdad Bridge Organization, the discussion exposed deep rifts. When Hammadi said he believes the only way forward for Iraq is to split into three separate states &ndash;&nbsp;one for Shia, one for Sunni, and one for Kurds &ndash;&nbsp;many scoffed at the notion.</p><p>Among those who refuse to entertain the idea of partitioning Iraq was Rina Abdulamir, a 19-year old student at Northeastern University. Abdulamir has been in the U.S. since she was a small child, but teared up when she spoke of her homeland.</p><p>&ldquo;I wish to go back there, I wish to go back there and we all build it together &ndash;&nbsp;all Shia, Sunnis, Kurds,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;And I wish to work with my degree that I got here, since I&rsquo;m working on my justice degree.&rdquo; Abdulamir said she could imagine working in the Iraqi government, or as a lawyer.</p><p>Despite occasional tensions in the room, after two-and-a-half hours of discussion, everyone said they were grateful to be heard. They said part of their stress has been feeling like nobody outside their community cares about events in Iraq. They said just getting their voices out there made them feel better.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="http://www.twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="http://www.twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 20 Jun 2014 08:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-iraqis-react-deepening-crisis-back-home-110384 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 Immigrants face barriers on health care site http://www.wbez.org/news/immigrants-face-barriers-health-care-site-109698 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ACA immigrants_web.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>More than two months after the Obama administration declared <a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/">healthcare.gov</a> working &ldquo;smoothly for the vast majority of users,&rdquo; immigrants who try to sign up are still encountering serious glitches.</p><p>On Wednesday, federal officials <a href="http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/02/20140212a.html">trumpeted</a> the fact that more than 1 million people signed up for private insurance in January, with Illinois accounting for nearly 89,000 of those enrollees. With fewer than 40 days until the deadline to enroll without incurring a penalty, much of the attention has turned to so-called &ldquo;young invincibles,&rdquo; a term for young, healthy people who will likely have lower health care costs.</p><p>There&rsquo;s no similar focus on immigrants, WBEZ has found, who continue to face significant hurdles with identity and citizenship verification, and faulty determinations of eligibility for Medicaid. In Illinois, the task of finding and navigating around those barriers often falls to scrappy enrollment specialists who work directly with those clients at community health centers. On top of their jobs, they are finding themselves tasked with bringing the glitches to the attention to state and federal authorities, and lobbying for them to be fixes.</p><p>Illinois, which is one of seven states to engage in a state-federal partnership, relies on the federal site to handle the enrollment function for plans offered on the state&rsquo;s insurance marketplace. Under the Affordable Care Act, immigrants are required to have insurance if they reside lawfully in the U.S. &ndash; even if they are not citizens.</p><p>&ldquo;Since November I have frequently made visits, and every time I made a visit I&rsquo;ve stayed at least 3-4 hours,&rdquo; said Zejna Belko, a 51-year old Bosnian immigrant who described her attempt to enroll in the healthcare exchange with the help of enrollment counselors at the Hamdard Center on Chicago&rsquo;s far North Side. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve also had individuals from other agencies try to help us out.&rdquo;</p><p>Belko, who&rsquo;s lived in the U.S. with a green card for 16 years, said she&rsquo;s spent up to 30 hours working with enrollment specialists. Still, they haven&rsquo;t even been able to start her application because the system cannot verify her identity. So far, Belko has twice mailed identifying documents, such as copies of her green card and social security card, to the Department of Health and Human Services, to no avail.</p><p>&ldquo;My blood pressure rises,&rdquo; she said through a translator. &ldquo;I get very frustrated and angry because I&rsquo;m an honest person and I&rsquo;m not hiding anything, and I don&rsquo;t understand what the problem is. I just want to get health care coverage.&rdquo;</p><p>In a small health center in Wicker Park, Graciela Guzman said she sees these cases all the time. Most frequently, the issues with identity verification is done via checking an applicant&rsquo;s credit history &ndash; something Guzman said many newer immigrants don&rsquo;t yet have.</p><p>&ldquo;They haven&rsquo;t been here long enough to be considered &lsquo;bankable,&rsquo;&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Like a lot of them have been paid by cash. Maybe they don&rsquo;t have banks. Maybe they don&rsquo;t own property. So the system has a harder time just finding them.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The Morning Shift: How an ACA enrollment specialist is helping immigrants in Chicago</strong></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/134626873&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Guzman works with a team of five enrollment specialists at <a href="http://www.primecarechi.org/">PrimeCare Community Health</a>, a small clinic based in St. Elizabeth&rsquo;s Hospital in Chicago&rsquo;s Wicker Park neighborhood. About half of their clients are immigrants. Her team encounters hurdles to enrollment so frequently, they&rsquo;ve managed to cobble together a complicated flow sheet of workarounds. For identity verification problems, they&rsquo;ve found that calling the federal Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center, and later uploading or mailing a client&rsquo;s identification documents, usually helps to get an application started</p><p>But there are other barriers. Through trial and error, they found success in ignoring the site&rsquo;s directions to fill out information completely, and instead repeatedly clicking &ldquo;continue and save&rdquo; when they get an error on citizenship verification. The most significant challenge, however, appears not to have a workaround.</p><p>&ldquo;Most of our clients receive incorrect eligibility determinations, that tell them that they&rsquo;re eligible for Medicaid,&rdquo; said Guzman.</p><p>This is the case for lawful permanent residents whose incomes would qualify for Medicaid, but who are barred from enrolling in that program because they&rsquo;ve lived in the U.S. less than five years. Once the site directs an enrollee to apply for Medicaid, it does not allow them back onto the private healthcare exchange, where these clients should be.</p><p>&ldquo;We have brought this to the attention of our federal counterparts,&rdquo; said a state spokesman, &ldquo;and we believe they have been working to address it by adding new questions to <a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/">healthcare.gov</a> late last week that will allow people to get through to the Marketplace once they have been issued a denial.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, immigrants are advised to apply for Medicaid even when they know they are ineligible for it, just to receive a denial. But since Medicaid eligibility was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, a backlog in applications has led to significantly longer processing times.&nbsp;</p><p>Guzman and her team of so-called &ldquo;navigators&rdquo; say, as they discover glitches, they&rsquo;ve relayed them to state and federal officials. So far, they have enrolled more than 600 immigrants to the healthcare exchange. In addition to the discoveries they&rsquo;ve made about getting through the technical difficulties, the team is also working out ways to handle the unexpected emotional impact of the job.</p><p>&ldquo;On our days off, we&rsquo;re constantly thinking about patients, which is like ludicrous,&rdquo; said Martin Jurado, who works with Guzman at PrimeCare. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think anybody else does that. You know? Somebody that you&rsquo;ve barely met, you barely know, yet you know everything about their life, what they&rsquo;re going through, and you&rsquo;re carrying that, and a lot of people didn&rsquo;t tell you that, starting off the bat.&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman found that <a href="http://guzmangraciela.wordpress.com/">blogging </a>helps her process their experiences. She writes of frustrations with the healthcare exchange website, but also about clients that stick in her head.</p><p>&ldquo;People really weren&rsquo;t hearing the complexity of the website, they weren&rsquo;t hearing people&rsquo;s fears and difficulties in getting through the website,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And so we wanted to share some of what&rsquo;s going on.&rdquo;</p><p>Together, she said, they have come to realize they are witnessing a moment: droves of people are coming out of the shadows because the law requires them to &ndash; and they&rsquo;re coming with needs that extend far beyond just health care.</p><p>&ldquo;We get them comfortable and primed, hopefully, for enrollment,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;but then they&rsquo;ll turn around and kind of like almost offhandedly be like, &lsquo;so you helped me with this, can you help me with housing? Can you help me with food stamps? I have some domestic stuff going on, where do I go?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman said she believes they&rsquo;re on the frontier of a new phase. She, Jurado, and the rest of their team will stick around after the crush of enrollment ends March 31st, helping people change or update their health plans. But she said they&rsquo;ll also continue to serve as access points to community resources when immigrants don&rsquo;t know where to go.</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> Thu, 13 Feb 2014 12:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/immigrants-face-barriers-health-care-site-109698 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 Palestinians and Jews both lay claim to Mandela’s legacy http://www.wbez.org/news/palestinians-and-jews-both-lay-claim-mandela%E2%80%99s-legacy-109375 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 11.25.41 PM.png" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">As memorials continue for Nelson Mandela this week, many groups are claiming Mandela as a champion of their cause, including Palestinians and Jews. Mandela&rsquo;s support for national self-determination garnered the appreciation and support of both sides in the intractable Middle East conflict. But while they share a common hero, they take away different lessons from his struggle.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We do consider Nelson Mandela to be our leader,&rdquo; said Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian-American and the Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a sort of replication of that anti-apartheid movement in Palestine and across the world for those that are doing Palestine advocacy and Palestine support work.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Abudayyeh points to the <a href="http://www.bdsmovement.net/">Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement</a>, started in 2005 by supporters of the Palestinian cause. The campaign aims to build international economic and political pressure against Israel, to secure withdrawal of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territories and a dismantling of the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank, among other demands. &ldquo;That is something that we learned from the anti-apartheid movement and that we&rsquo;re incorporating into our own movement,&rdquo; said Abudayyeh. An international divestment campaign helped to formally bring South Africa&rsquo;s apartheid era to an end in 1991.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Israel is your apartheid, pariah state, just like South Africa was your apartheid, pariah state in the &lsquo;70s and &lsquo;80s and during the movement,&rdquo; said Abudayyeh.</p><p dir="ltr">Other high-profile figures have compared Palestinian conditions to that of black South Africans under apartheid &mdash; and found themselves at the center of significant controversy as a result. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter sparked a fierce debate with the 2006 publication of his book, &ldquo;Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.&rdquo; South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu made a similar comparison. Mandela himself, however, never publicly used the word &ldquo;apartheid&rdquo; when speaking of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Arafat is a comrade in arms, and we treat him as such.&rdquo; Mandela famously said of Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in 1990. During an interview with ABC&rsquo;s Ted Koppel on Nightline, Mandela defended this position, even when Koppel pressed him to consider whether it could alienate American Jews from his cause in South Africa.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It would be a grave mistake for us to consider our attitude toward Yasser Arafat on the basis of the interests of the Jewish community,&rdquo; Mandela explained. &ldquo;We sympathize with the struggles of the Jewish people and their persecution right down the years. In fact, we have been very much influenced by lack of racialism amongst Jewish communities.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Mandela noted that many white leaders in the African National Congress party were Jewish, and that his first job as a lawyer was with a Jewish firm. For many Jews, Mandela&rsquo;s support of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination did not mean he was against Israel.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There was no contradiction for Mandela of his also embracing Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people,&rdquo; says Aaron Cohen of the Jewish United Fund in Chicago. &ldquo;He supported Israel&rsquo;s right to exist as a Jewish state.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Cohen says comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa are false, and that they attempt to delegitimize Israel&rsquo;s right to exist. While Mandela reportedly called Israel a &ldquo;terrorist state&rdquo; in 1990 for offering military and arms support to South Africa&rsquo;s apartheid government, Cohen said that criticism was borne out of Mandela&rsquo;s belief that all people have a right to self-determination. It did not mean that Mandela was anti-Israel.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;When he became president of South Africa, Mandela went out of his way to also assure Israel and the Jewish world that he supported Israel&rsquo;s safe and secure existence in the Middle East,&rdquo; said Cohen, &ldquo;and that furthermore, the Arab world should do the same.&rdquo;</p><p>Cohen says instead of being mired in the past, Mandela felt Israelis and Palestinians could resolve their differences if they simply looked to the future. The two sides may draw very different lessons from Mandela&rsquo;s legacy, but as they prepare for Mandela&rsquo;s burial this Sunday, they&rsquo;ll mourn together.</p><p><br /><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> Fri, 13 Dec 2013 18:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/palestinians-and-jews-both-lay-claim-mandela%E2%80%99s-legacy-109375