By Igor Studenkov
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), whose ward includes the Loop and part of the West Loop, has introduced to City Council an ordinance aiming to improve safety for rideshare drivers and passengers, cap rideshare fares, and regulate payments to rideshare drivers.
The ordinance, which Reilly introduced in June, would establish a fund to help drivers cover vehicle improvements and security upgrades. It also would cap surcharges, set payment minimums, and ensure most of the fares passengers pay go to the drivers. The proposed ordinance aims to improve security by setting up driver identity verification, increasing penalties for battery against drivers, and creating a process for passengers to report drivers operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Since June, however, the legislation has languished in the Committee on License and Consumer Protection and attracted only one co-sponsor, Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st Ward). Local Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward) serves on the committee but was unavailable for comment. If the ordinance passes the committee during its next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 13, it could go to a full council vote on Tuesday, Sept. 14.
The ordinance would establish the Public Chauffeur Assistance Fund to help drivers maintain and make security upgrades to their vehicles. The City would fund it via revenue from taxes on cab and rideshare drivers as well as fines levied on people who attack drivers.
Battery against drivers would result in stiffer penalties: a $1,000 to $5,000 fine and 120 days to six months in jail for a first offense. A second offense would raise the jail time minimum to 150 days and bump up the fine to $5,000 to $15,000. A third second offense would mean six months of jail time and a fine of $10,000 to $20,000.
The ordinance would regulate rideshare companies’ ability to increase their regular rates, requiring them to notify the City of increases ahead of time, forbidding them from increasing the rate more than once a month, and capping rate increases at 150%. It also would tackle the practice of “surge pricing,” where rideshare platforms raise fares when demand is high. Platforms would be required to notify users of the surge ahead of time, give riders an option to look up “total reasonable fare estimate of the trip” when they book, and give them an option to decline the trip based on the estimate. The ordinance also would allow the city to regulate how high the surge pricing can go.
The proposal would set requirements for contracts between providers and drivers, requiring a clear breakdown of any costs and fees drivers must pay providers as well as the exact breakdown of how providers calculate drivers’ pay. The providers also would have to show how much of the fares the riders pay goes to drivers.
The ordinance ensures drivers receive more equitable pay in two ways. First, it sets driver pay minimums using a formula that includes how long the trip took, how many miles the trip totaled, and the “utilization rate”—how much of the time drivers are active on the associated app. The minimum would apply so long as any portion of the trip falls within Chicago city limits but would not apply if drivers form a labor union and sign a union contract with the provider.
In addition, the ordinance would require at least 75% of what the passengers pay go to the driver and ban providers from taking any share of tips. Providers would be fined $100 a day for each violation; violating the requirement for three non-consecutive days would get the provider banned in Chicago.
Providers would be required to send drivers and passengers information within 24 hours after each trip regarding the trip’s time and distance and how much the driver got paid. The passenger would receive the driver’s first name. Providers would have to send drivers records of all their trips, including the record of how much the driver got paid and what fees the provider charged per trip.
In terms of safety, the ordinance would require passengers to verify their identities to providers. If a rider commits a crime against the driver, the provider would have to turn over the information to the police.
Several provisions address driver behavior. The ordinance would establish a process allowing riders to file complaints with providers about drivers working under influence of drugs or alcohol; providers would have 15 days to investigate each complaint and have to suspend the driver from the app for the duration of the complaint.
The ordinance gives drivers the right to appeal suspensions not related to substance abuse through Chicago’s administrative hearing process. If the City rules in their favor, drivers would be able to recover lost pay, with interest. The ordinance also prohibits retaliation against drivers.
Safety has caused ongoing concerns for rideshare drivers, especially with the increase in carjackings earlier this year. The Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), a rideshare drivers advocacy organization which has a chapter in Illinois, singled out carjackings as one of the major issues facing drivers. IDG is pushing rideshare companies to implement several measures included in Reilly’s ordinance such as passenger identity verification, increased penalties for assault on drivers, and in-vehicle cameras.
IDG executive director Brendan Sexton supports Reilly’s proposal.
“Uber and Lyft have been fleecing riders and drivers for years by taking bigger and bigger cuts of each fare, while drivers are paid less,” he said. “Drivers have been demanding a cap on app fees, safety protections, and fair pay for years, and we are excited to see a proposal introduced.”
Mark Smithivas, a Chicago rideshare driver and an organizer with IDG’s Illinois chapter, said the organization has been working with Reilly “to find solutions that will protect the hard working drivers who keep Chicago moving.”
“By capping the app company fees, we can protect riders and drivers alike from unfair fees and keep more of our hard earned money right here in Chicago in our local economy,” he said.
Uber and Lyft both have similar safety measures on their respective apps including 24/7 phone support, some version of the emergency call button that sends information to 911 dispatch, and the ability to share location and route information with friends and family. Both have features meant to detect crashes and “unusually long stops,” and both encourage passengers to post profile pictures and work with police departments to address carjackings.
Both require riders who set up accounts using pre-paid cards, gift cards, and Venmo or Paypal to provide “additional identification.” In spring 2021, Uber rolled out a requirement for such riders to upload a picture of a state ID, driver’s license, or some other form of identification; that provision falls short of the more universal verification Reilly’s ordinance calls for.
Lyft has safety teams that work with individual drivers who were victims of crime. According to its policy, violent behavior and other violations of its community guidelines get riders permanently suspended.
Uber recently donated $25,000 to Cook County Crimestoppers, allowing them to offer rewards for information on carjacking suspects. That effort runs only until Sept. 30, however.
In June, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a suspect in Federal court with carjacking and murdering Chicago rideshare driver Javier Ramos.
“These Federal charges are a critical step toward accountability, and we hope they send a message to all the carjackers who have been victimizing gig workers across our city,” said Lanny Sanchez of the IDG.
Gazette Chicago attempted to reach Reilly, but while his staff indicated that a response from his office was forthcoming, it had not arrived either by phone or e-mail by deadline. Uber and Lyft also did not respond to interview requests.