Chicago should revamp its rules for taxi drivers and create a task force to professionalize the industry, according to a report issued Tuesday by a group of labor, faith and community leaders. The Chicago Taxi Drivers Workers Rights Board, working in conjunction with Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 31, plans to pass along their findings and recommendations to a new city task force that is looking into changes for the taxi industry.
“The system that the City has established to impose tickets, fines and licensure threats on drivers is at the root of an escalating collective worker anger,” said Robert Bruno, a labor relations professor at the University of Illinois and an author of the report. “And we believe it is in need of systemic change.”
The group held a public hearing for taxi drivers in November to identify the key areas to target in the study. It found that cabbies resented having little to no input on rules that apply to their industry; the system of fees, fines and penalties that they work under are unnecessarily burdensome; and, they feel there is a lack of due process in the administrative hearings court that adjudicates tickets and complaints against cab drivers.
“Cab drivers are sent to a special court, where the rules are arbitrary and opaque,” explained Tracy Abman, Associate Director of AFSCME Local 31, “where complainants are not required to be present or even reveal their identity, and where city prosecutors routinely threaten and coerce drivers into foregoing their right to a hearing.”
Abman contrasted that with the process that drivers for rideshare services like UberX and Lyft face when they are ticketed or charged with breaking the law. She said those drivers are able to face and cross-examine their accusers in the Circuit Court, and that taxi drivers should be able to do the same.
Rideshare services help non-professional drivers use their cars much like taxis, and have been legal in Chicago for several months. Former Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation legalizing the services statewide before leaving office this week.
Bruno said the pressure of competition against rideshare services could be positive for the taxi industry, if it moves to distinguish itself as a more professional industry. “It could be wearing uniforms, it could be training programs, it could be incentives in terms of performance in which pay could increase,” said Bruno. “I think there are creative things that could be done.”
The study recommends the creation of a task force to explore ways in which the industry could improve its services, as well as establish taxi-driving as a career path to the middle class.
Taxi drivers should see some relief next month, when an ordinance goes into effect that will lower credit card fees, penalties, and leases for most cabs.