By Arionne Nettles
Chicago taxi drivers are fed up with the city’s limited ride-sharing regulations and are gearing up for a 24-hour strike.
The United Taxidrivers Community Council is leading “Day Without a Cabdriver” — a protest against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget plan that would give ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, access to airport pickups. The strike will begin Thursday at 6 a.m. and continue until Friday morning — what the council cites as the busiest period of the week.
“Let’s see if Chicago can survive just taking the ride-shares for one day,” said Peter Ali Enger, who represents the council on the Mayor’s Taxicab Driver Fairness Task Force. “Let’s just see.”
Currently, ride-sharing drivers are not allowed to pick up passengers at Midway and O’Hare airports or at McCormick Place. The proposed plan would allow these drivers to do so and would charge them a $5 fee for every drop-off and pickup at an airport, McCormick Place and Navy Pier, which is similar to the $4 fee that taxi drivers currently pay. Additionally, the ride-share tax would increase from 30 cents to 50 cents per ride.
The budget also included two fare changes for taxis — a 15 percent fare increase and the addition of the same 50-cent ride-share charge.
Taxicab advocates argued that they want a fare increase that would boost their rate-per-mile to a level that’s equivalent with other major cities, but that it should be charged to all drivers.
“I’ve gotten gray hair while waiting for a fare increase,” said Fayez Khozindar, chairperson for United Taxidriver Community Council. “And what do we get? 15 percent and it’s not going to the driver’s pocket.”
Council members said the increase does not offset the 20 percent to 30 percent of business lost to ride-sharing companies, and it makes taxi rides even more expensive for customers.
“There’s no morning commute money anymore,” Enger said. “I can drive around for hours without one fare.”
Taxi driver Keith Williams has been driving in Chicago for 32 years and said that companies like Uber are not being held to the same stiff standards as taxicabs.
“The bottom line is that [city representatives] are pacifying Uber when they should be pacifying the cab industry,” Williams said. “Uber’s got to go — that’s the bottom line.”
Although there is no exact count of how many cabs will be off the streets Thursday, the United Taxidrivers Community Council is hoping for a 70 percent to 80 percent participation rate from the city’s cabdrivers.
“We need to fight this tooth and nail, all the way to the wall,” Enger said. “I don’t expect that this will be the last action from the drivers if the Mayor doesn’t change his mind.”