On January 18 the Chicago city council passed taxi reform legislation championed by Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Anthony Beale. Supposedly influenced by a Tribune expose published in December on problem cab drivers who remained behind the wheel, this legislation seeks to modernize the existing cab fleet, improve driver safety, and increase handicap accessible cabs.
Sounds good right? It certainly did to this sometime cab rider. That is until I began to talk to those who drive cabs in the city to earn a meager living. Here is what I found out.
For starters, the requirement that cab drivers not spend more than 12 hours behind the wheel represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to drive a cab for a living. Many if not all drivers use their cabs as a personal vehicle. During the time they are behind the wheel, not all drivers are looking for fares. Some are shopping for groceries, picking up children from school, or have parked their vehicle for a few hours to take a break. This new legislation would not account for such down time and would actually force most drivers to literally remain behind the wheel for 12 hours to recoup the cost of their daily lease and (maybe) make a profit. Of course, I've yet to figure out how the city plans to enforce this time limit. Will they put chips in cabbie's brains to track them from the city's 911 center?
Getting newer, more environmentally friendly, and handicap accessible cabs on the road is also a laudable goal. Ever since Ford and GM stopped production of the Crown Victoria and Caprice full sized sedans, police departments have had to switch to different vehicles for their squad cars. This has trickled down to the cab business and changed the look of the fleet. Today Chicago's streets contain a dizzying variety of makes and models. Some of which are hybrid vehicles.
Forcing cabbies to lease these new vehicles as part of a "tiered-leasing" model, which includes vehicle age limits, does nothing for drivers. It simply puts more money in the hands of the companies who lease the cars to would-be drivers. If the city wants to modernize it's cab fleet, they need to put some cost regulations in place on the cab companies to ensure that drivers aren't getting fleeced when they sign a lease on a newer car. Otherwise, there will be a strong incentive to lease an older, more rundown vehicle, or operate a "jitney" cab (a private car operating as a cab), which will receive its own category of license under the new legislation. Mayor Emanuel apparently believes that outsourcing is also good for cabs. Some Democrat.
Although there are certainly good intentions in the taxi reform bill, the current version will only enrich the cab companies at the expense of their drivers. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise given Alderman Beale's ties to taxi industry lobby. In a recent story from the Chicago Dispatcher, a monthly paper devoted to the interests of cab drivers, George Lutfullah points out the cozy relationship between Beale, the chairman of the city's transportation committee, and Baxter Swilley, the one-time third party candidate for Lt. Gov. of Illinois and a major lobbyist for the taxi business.
A photo in the paper shows Swilley at a fundraiser for Beale. Perhaps the Tribune shouldn't pat itself on the back just yet. Seems to me like Chicago-style politics got this law on the books and not the high minded advocacy of the "World's Greatest Newspaper."
With Chicago Bureaucrats taking cabbies for a ride, I can't help but wonder who will give the last Chicagoan a ride out of town when they finally get tired of paying the new taxes and fees dreamed up by Emanuel I. I guess they'll have to walk.