A union representing taxi drivers wants Chicago to ease regulations and eliminate a tax to help cab companies better compete with ride-sharing firms like Uber and Lyft. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
A union representing hundreds of taxi drivers wants the city to ease vehicle restrictions, waive a tax and eliminate a fee to help an industry that they say is struggling to survive in the era of Uber and other ride-hailing services.
City officials are open to talks, said Lilia Chacon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Protection and Business Affairs.
But she also provided an official response from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration listing steps the city already has taken to reduce taxi regulations and costs, even as it has opened up the market to the ride-hailing industry.
The Cab Drivers United union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, contends the city hasn’t done enough to help taxi drivers compete.
Smaller operators who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their medallions are increasingly facing foreclosure on the loans they took out to finance those purchases, according to study the union released Monday as it advocated for further change. Some owners are giving up their medallions as taxi use declines, the study found.
"Owner operators are unable to keep up with loan payments for their medallions, plus their high operating costs," said Tracey Abman, an AFSCME associate director. "As a result of that, hundreds of taxi operators are facing foreclosures on their medallions, and thousands more foreclosures are likely unless the city takes substantial action to reduce the financial burden on small taxi owners."
The union is asking the city to consider allowing older taxis to stay on the road as long as they pass inspection, waive a $98-a-month ground transportation tax and eliminate a $1,000 fee to renew medallions every two years.
Cab Drivers United also wants the city to make it easier for taxi drivers to get fares through apps. They also would like the city to reinstate a lottery for medallions that haven’t been purchased in previous years. The union hopes lease drivers would be able to get the medallions for free, given their deflated value.
medallion lottery that , given their deflated value, the union hopes would result in lease drivers getting them for free.
"We are calling on the City Council to act, and they must act if the taxi industry is going to survive," Abman said. "We’re hoping to work with the city to put together a comprehensive program and move that forward together."
The city first officially opened the market to ride-hailing services in late 2014, which the taxi union says began a slide in taxi fares and income.
About a year ago, Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, advocated for tougher regulation of ride-hailing services. But Emanuel — whose brother Ari is an investor in Uber — resisted some of the changes and the measure was watered down.