Uber and Lyft almost got thrown out of America’s third largest city; Chicago. The app-based solutions dodged a major bullet; when the Windy City’s council rejected stricter regulations that would have driven them out of town.
The Council voted 36 to 16 on June 23; to kill a plan that would have required networked transportation drivers to follow the same rules as cabbies, The Chicago Tribune reported. That would have required their drivers to attend classes, undergo background checks and get fingerprinted.
Instead the council approved a watered-down deal; engineered by Mayor Rob Emanuel, preserves the status quo. The deal is controversial because Emanuel and other politicians worked it out behind closed doors at the last minute.
Interestingly enough the new ordinance lowers the bar for cab drivers and ride-sharing drivers alike. Under the new rules; all drivers will have to get a public chauffeur’s license, but they will not have to undergo drug tests and physical exams as before.
Under the new regime; drivers can only be tested at the discretion of the city’s license commissioner. That sounds like a legal nightmare and lawsuits waiting to happen. It also sounds like good news for the Uber drivers’ union; the Independent Driver’s Guild, recently organized in New York. Since the Guild provides legal representation to drivers, it will undoubtedly end up in conflict with Chicago over this.
Major Victory for Uber
The Chicago vote is a rare political victory for Uber and a sign of the service’s popularity. Emmanuel probably intervened in the legislative process out of fear of the city’s 90,000 registered Uber and Lyft drivers and their customers. That adds up to a lot of votes – even in a city the size of Chicago.
The victory might be short lived; because the council meeting where it was passed descended into chaos. There were allegations of traditional Chicago politics in the form of sleazy backroom deal making.
To make matters worse, Emmanuel’s brother; Hollywood agent Ari Emmanuel, is an Uber investor, The Chicago Tribune pointed out. Charges of conflict of interest are sure to fly over this one.
Since Mayor Emmanuel is also a major player in the Democratic Party; he is a friend and close associate of Barack Obama. This could be a sign of similar deals in other cities that might make Uber a political issue.
Like it or not, it looks as if Uber is here to stay and is now a major political force. One has to wonder what it will do with that muscle next.