When Chicago City Council voted to allow drivers for companies like Uber to pick up passengers at O’Hare and Midway airports as part of a budget deal, the debate was heated.
Taxi drivers protested, saying that airport access for transportation network providers (TNP) would eliminate one of the few remaining exclusive privileges they have in commercial passenger services. City officials touted their decision as a compromise, because it also levied a $0.52 per ride tax on all TNP fares, as well as a $5 fee on rides beginning or ending at the airports, McCormick Place and Navy Pier.
Weeks later, there was much less publicity when an additional tax was slapped onto TNP rides.
“They need to pay the fees that everybody else does,” said Peter Enger, secretary of the United Taxidrivers Community Council, a group that lobbies for cabbie rights.
According to Enger, it was the UTCC that turned the McPier board’s attention to the question of whether TNPs would be required to pay an additional $4 tax on each ride that leaves the airport. “We inquired whether the TNPs would be allowed to pick up without paying the tax, or whether there was any plans to require them to pay the tax.”
On November 16, the board of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority — more commonly known as McPier — unanimously approved an amendment to its “airport departure tax” ordinance. It extended the $4 charge to include TNPs, with the tax effective immediately upon passage.
“I knew nothing about it,” said Mattia Nanfria, who drives roughly 50 hours a week on both the Lyft and UberX platforms. “And I think it’s pretty safe to say none of us really know anything about it.”
McPier has declined to comment about the tax, and WBEZ was forced to file a Freedom of Information request simply to view the language of the amended ordinance. A request to both the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Department of Aviation was answered by a spokesperson who directed WBEZ to ask McPier about it. Uber has not responded to requests for comment. A Lyft spokesperson indicated that the company was aware of the tax, but did not answer questions about whether the company intends to pay.
Under the ordinance, “it shall be the duty of each transportation network provider to collect the tax… and to remit the tax” to McPier. The amendment also specifies that “the tax becomes due and is payable on the 10th day of the calendar month following the calendar month in which the tax accrues….”
“If I had to be honest, I don’t think there is a $4 fee coming out of these fares,” said Nanfria, who frequently picks passengers up at O’Hare. “Their fares are already low. If you’re talking about they’re taking another $4 out of already-low fare, it just doesn’t seem sustainable to me.” Nanfria said she has seen no indication in the charges that she or her passengers view on their smartphone screens that a $4 tax is charged to either the driver or passenger.
“We are sure that it is not being collected at least from the drivers of the TNP vehicles, nor from the passengers,” said Enger. “I actually took an UberX car, myself, from the airport to a local hotel, just to test the system, and I was not charged an airport departure tax. So I know passengers are not paying it.”
“I would love to know if there’s another tax that the TNCs are supposed to be paying,” said Nanfria. “Just something doesn’t sit right with me about it if it’s not being listed above-board and very transparently.”