As a lifelong Chicagoan, I can tell you that taxis have always been a mixed bag, and a very, very mixed bag if you live on the South or West sides.
Where I live is barely considered the South Side, especially by my friends in Hyde Park, South Shore, Beverly or beyond. But even the South Loop was once a never-land for certain Chicago taxi cabseven tho there once was a Yellow Cab headquarters two blocks from my home.
I could call for a taxi, but one would rarely ever come. I could hail a taxi downtown, and when I said where I was going, they said they didn't go there.
So now that companies such as Uber have come to town with a huge industry disruption, I don't have a lot of sympathy.
This is not against individual taxi drivers, because I have friends who are taxi drivers. Many have worked very hard for years and have paid into a rigged medallion system controlled by a few, and constantly strangling the little guys. That medallion system was doomed to collapse one day, and the Ubers of the world just hastened the decline of an unfair way to do business.
There are also bad taxi drivers, rude ones, homophobic ones, transphobic ones. For three decades I have covered complaints against taxi drivers who threw out a same-sex couple for kissing, or refused rides to African-American friends, kicked out trans customers, and the list is endless. And this exists among ride share drivers as well. No amount of background checks make a person civil and fair-minded.
But I do know that Uber for example is doing a lot of outreach on LGBTQ issues, and we have partnered with them in 2016 to do LGBTQ events and outreach for drivers and riders. They are very open in supporting the LGBTQ community, while the amorphous taxi industry has never taken moves to do massive training on diversity for their drivers or outreach to the community. Who exactly is in charge? That's really hard to nail down.
So now the City Council wants to further regulate the ride sharing companies, including with fingerprints ( there already is a background check ). Some regulation is good, but it can't go so far as to push business out of the city. We need ride sharing options in Chicago, and we also need a more fair taxi system as well.
In testimony to the City Council, Uber Chicago General Manager Marco McCottry noted: "The best way to help taxi is to look for ways to alleviate the burdens on taxi drivers and modernize their rules."
Would fingerprints for ride share make us safer? When we know that the criminal legal system in this country disproportionately targets people of color, do we really want to rely on a racist system to make us feel safe? Do we want to further stigmatize ex-cons, who already have a difficult time finding employment? This would provide a false sense of security, and be based on an unjust system. I want people to work and be in the economy, and I don't have any trust that finger printing drivers would make me safer.
Our economy itself is based on severe racism. I watch TV's Shark Tank, and I see how so many entrepreneurs, the backbone of our economy, hire people that mostly look just like them when they are growing their business. Just watch the show and you can see many examples of just how unjust this society is. Racism is subtle and pernicious. Most people don't realize they play into society's unfairness when they give a leg up to a friend, or a cousin's kid, or their father-in-law. Or when they look at resumes of a bunch of people and pick the names that sound like their tribe. But it exists, and Chicago has some of the worst numbers of unemployment for African-Americans, especially young men, in the nation.
Uber and other new economy companies can be a great starting job, or supplemental point, for a whole range of people who for many reasons select these jobs to fit into their life. I know one lesbian who is a driver because she has kids to drive to and from school, and this job fits perfect for her. I know a party promoter who loves the flexibility because he is busy at odd hours.
What is sad to see is that the taxi cab industry itself was so slow to react to the internet and new ways to do business. They are being punished for being behind the times, and could have created these apps just as mainstream newspapers could have created a Craig's List for classifieds. Instead, sometimes big old industries are disrupted because of new technologies.
And they are also disrupted because when they are a huge entity, sometimes they don't care to respond to the needs of all the people they should be serving. According to city data, over the last six months, ridesharing provided 92 percent of rides to and from underserved communities while taxis only provided 8 percent. And Uber says that competition also motivated taxi drivers to do a better job: taxi complaints about air conditioning, "broken" credit card machines and rude drivers dropped with the rise of ride share, according to a study by the Technology Policy Institute.
We should not try and punish innovators, instead we should try and help the taxi industry by loosening their rules to allow more inclusion as well.
Yes, we need regulations. But we also need options for all Chicagoans for both jobs and rides.