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Emanuel’s taxi reforms cost average cabdriver $7,500 annually: study

CHICAGO IL - SEPTEMBER 08:  A Ford Crown Victoribeing used as taxi navigates city streets September 8 2011 Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 08: A Ford Crown Victoria, being used as a taxi, navigates the city streets on September 8, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Last month Ford saw sales of the Crown Victoria climb 140 percent compared with August 2010 as police departments began to stockpile the vehicle before Ford ended production at the St. Thomas, Ontario assembly line on August 31. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Updated: July 13, 2014 4:58PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s overhaul of the taxicab industry has snatched $7,531 out of the average cabdriver’s pocket, dropping annual income to $20,234 or just $5.40-an-hour, a new study shows.

The latest in a series of studies to highlight the financial plight of cabbies was conducted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which is trying to organize cabbies into a group called, “Cab Drivers United.”

After surveying 400 drivers and purusing city records obtained through Freedom of Information requests, they concluded that Emanuel’s 2012 reforms are costing the average driver $7,531 each year. That’s on top of the rising cost of gasoline, insurance and taxes.

The burden includes:
◆ $2,964 in higher lease rates, thanks to a change from the “flat maximum” rate of $57 for a 12-hour shift to a tiered rate ranging from $59-$74 for the same period.
◆ $2,135 in reduced work hours tied to the edict that no cabdriver be on the road for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period. In 2008, the average driver worked 13 hours-a-day, six-days-a-week.
◆ $1,265 in fees to process credit card transactions. The 2012 reforms mandated credit card machines in every cab — even though processing fees run as high as five percent.
◆ $721 in fines for violations like parking tickets while loading and unloading passengers and parking cabs on residential streets. The mayor’s reforms raised the maximum fine from $1,000 to $5,000.
◆ $446 for the two-days-a-year in lost income and lease payments that the average driver spends in administrative hearings.

The bottom line is an annual income of $20,234. That’s 15 percent below poverty level for a family of four — and declining, thanks to an Emanuel-championed ride-sharing ordinance approved by the City Council earlier this month.

“Taxi drivers’ voice [sic] should be heard. We have no voice . . . in the decision-making process. All the big guys and big shots are manipulating the market. We are basically left with a heavily regulated taxicab industry,” veteran cabdriver Ismail Onay said during a Wednesday news conference at City Hall.

“No fare increase yet. First, we need to fix the system that is broken — all these highly-complicated rules and regulations. And yet, another ordinance is introducing a ride-sharing program that is not regulated at all. At no cost, they can enter into the market.”

Cabdriver Wassem Syed unleashed his anger on the ride-sharing giant whose investors include the mayor’s brother.

“Uber-X? They took 40 percent of our business. No commercial insurance. No chauffeur license. They don’t go through city inspection. Why [don’] they . . . treat [us all] equal. That’s why we are united here. Before, I don’t have a union. Now, we have a union. I’m just worried about the future of my kids,” Syed said at the news conference.

Cabdriver Maxwell Akenten said cabdrivers are the “lifeblood” of Chicago, but the city is “squeezing us for revenue” because they are divided.

“Unity is strength. Without unity, there’s nothing anybody can do,” he said
Tracey Abman, director of organizing for AFSMCE Council 31, added, “Cabdrivers in Chicago face unprecedented obstacles. The changes that have occurred are hurting them — dramatically. That’s why they have come together to create an organization where they can have a seat at the table.”

For now, AFSCME Council 31 is trying to give cabdrivers what the independent contractors have sorely-lacked: the political clout to demand lower fines, relaxed rules, the first increase in taxicab fares in nine years and a level playing field with ride-sharing companies siphoning their business.

If a pair of federal lawsuits succeed in having cabdrivers declared city employees eligible for the minimum wage, overtime and back pay, AFSCME Council 31 would seek to represent them at the bargaining table as they already do for 3,000 other city employees.

But, they’ll have a rival with a two-month head start. In April, the United Taxidrivers Community Council signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, in hope of unionizing Chicago cabdrivers and bolstering their political clout. To pull it off, the UTCC will have to more than triple its membership — from 200 to 300 members to more than 1,000.Two class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking a declaratory judgment that drivers are employees — not independent contractors.

Mika Stambaugh, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, issued a statement in response to the study.

“The Emanuel Administration is committed to supporting a vibrant taxi industry and has implemented reforms that have benefited drivers,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The 2012 Taxi Reform Ordinance made permanent the $1 fuel surcharge, resulting in additional money in the pockets of the City’s drivers. The ordinance also modernized the taxi cab fleet, bringing the percentage of alternative fuel efficient vehicles to more than 77 percent and saving between $6,600 to $8,900 per year, per driver.

And the City’s proposed ride share ordinance would establish a task force charged with providing the City with recommendations within 60 days for streamlining the training process for taxi and livery drivers.”

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