City Council panel OKs 50-cent fee on credit card cab fares

Aldermen moved a step closer Wednesday to approving a 50-cent surcharge on cab fares paid with credit cards, a move supporters hope will help taxi drivers struggling to compete with ride-share companies like Uber.

The City Council Transportation Committee approved committee Chairman Ald. Anthony Beale's plan to tack on the surcharge. Beale, 9th, has framed the ordinance as a "budget-neutral" way to put some money back in cabbies' pockets by defraying some of the charges credit card companies impose for processing fares paid with plastic.

But it isn't budget-neutral for riders, who would see another price bump on top of the 15 percent taxi fare increase Mayor Rahm Emanuel included in his 2016 budget.

Wednesday's action paves the way for the full City Council to consider the added fee next week. The Emanuel administration did not immediately respond to questions about the committee's action Wednesday.

The mayor had previously declined to take a position on the new fee. When Beale introduced the plan last month, the mayor said he would need to study it before weighing in.

The new credit card fee would come on top of the city's standard cab fare rates. The base flag pull for a cab ride in Chicago is now $3.25. Riders are charged $2.25 for each additional mile, plus 20 cents for each 36 seconds of the ride. One additional passenger adds a dollar to the flag pull, and 50 cents gets added for each rider after that.

Beale has said he doesn't think the credit card surcharge for cabs will drive riders into the arms of Uber, Lyft and other ride-share companies that are flooding Chicago streets with drivers who can be hailed using the companies' cellphone apps. Ride-share fares are automatically deducted from passengers' accounts.

On Wednesday, cabdrivers used the hearing on the 50-cent credit card fee as another chance to air their broader complaints with what they see as an unlevel regulatory playing field between the taxi and ride-share industries.

Cabdrivers are pushing hard to get the city to require Uber and Lyft drivers, many of whom drive only part time, to obtain the same chauffeur's licenses that cabbies need to operate in Chicago. The chauffeur's license requires applicants to pay for a weeklong class at a community college, and to then pass a test.

The cost and time commitment presumably would deter some would-be ride-share drivers from entering the market. Emanuel has resisted that move.

On Wednesday, Ald. John Arena, 45th, said something needs to be done to "find a way to make it so a cabbie can make enough money to make a dime before he gets to his thirty-seventh hour (behind the wheel)."

"If that's what we're dealing with here, then clearly government is the problem in this regard. And we can be a solver here, but I just think I'm not seeing the ideas coming from (the city)," Arena said.

Twitter @_johnbyrne

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