New Uber Rules May Leave Chicago In Legal Limbo

New Uber Rules May Leave Chicago In Legal Limbo

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It’s possible new rideshare regulations that Chicago’s City Council approved on Wednesday may not go far enough to put the city legally in the clear on a federal lawsuit where taxi and limousine owners are suing the city.

The new regulations, passed after an unusual frenzy of parliamentary maneuvers, were substantially looser than those approved by the Transportation Committee last week.

The rules would apply to Transportation Network Providers (TNPs) such as Uber and Lyft, and the drivers who use those companies’ technology platforms to provide rides for hire.

“I would assert there — still, even with the passage of this ordinance — there are two disparate set of rules,” said Mara Georges, an attorney representing the Illinois Transportation and Trade Association in its federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago. “One that governs taxis and one that governs TNPs in the City of Chicago.”

Georges said the ordinance approved by City Council could have been an opportunity to address concerns that U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman raised in a 2015 opinion. Coleman observed that, when compared to TNPs, the city maintains “substantially heavier burdens on taxis for training, qualifications, drug testing, vehicle condition, insurance, and fees.” She wrote that those differences appear “utterly arbitrary to this Court.”

“I do not believe that the ordinance that passed yesterday will satisfy Judge Coleman,” Alderman Anthony Beale (9th), sponsor of the ordinance, said on Thursday. “I think what it does (is) it points us in the right direction.”

Beale’s original proposal required TNP drivers to submit to mandatory fingerprint background checks, drug testing and class time, and to obtain licenses similar to those required by limousine drivers. It also required TNP companies to ensure that 5 percent of its fleet is wheelchair accessible. These requirements would have brought the industry into closer alignment with rules for taxi drivers and fleets. Instead, the new rules eliminated the fingerprinting and mandatory drug test requirement for all TNP drivers, and largely entrusts TNP companies with the enforcement of city rules.

“I think it was a compromise in order to get more data to get us to be able to come back and meet our objectives,” said Beale, who said he thinks the city will have to revisit the TNP rules to address Coleman’s opinion.

“There’s still pending litigation,” he said, “and if the judge comes back and says well, you know what, the city didn’t go far enough, the city could possibly be on the hook for over $1 billion in judgments.”

But the City maintains that TNPs provide a service that is distinct enough from taxis to merit a different set of rules, and has appealed Coleman’s findings to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We have a new form of transportation and Judge Coleman has recognized that the city has a legitimate interest in promoting the variety of transportation options available to serve the city’s citizens and to serve different parts of the city,” said Nereim. “Since this new type of transportation has entered the market, the city has been examining it, considering it. There have been several iterations of ordinances regulating it, and that’s ongoing.”

Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.