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Cabbies, demanding fare increase, threaten Monday morning strike

Cabs outside Merchandise Mart. |  Sun-Times files

Cabs outside the Merchandise Mart. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 29, 2012 5:00PM

It could be tougher to hail a taxi Monday morning — and every Monday morning rush hour after that — until cab drivers get a fare increase.

Claiming to represent at least 2,000 cabbies and expressing the frustrations of thousands more, the United Taxidrivers Community Council is calling for a regular Monday morning strike between 6 and 11 a.m.

Prior strike threats have fizzled as cabbies who function as independent contractors and routinely work 13 hour-days to eke out a living are reluctant to leave the street for even a few hours.

But Council spokesman Fayez Khozindar is confident this time will be different.

At O’Hare and Midway Airports, where scores of cabs wait in staging areas, it could be difficult to get a taxi during the Monday morning rush, he said.

“Just rush hour . . . We are not going to paralyze the city completely . . . We are not going to hurt the drivers. We want them to make money for their leases and gas,” Khozindar said.

But he said, “Drivers need to have a strike. They want to strike. So, 50 percent [participation] the first Monday. Maybe 70 percent the following Monday until we receive a call from City Hall” saying that Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports a fare hike.

Veteran cabbie Bill Burns added, “I’ve seen a lot of strikes. I have reservations about this strike. But we’ve reached the point of anger and frustration where we don’t feel like we have any choice.”

What’s fueling the drivers’ anger is the seven-year wait for a fare hike and the taxicab reforms that Emanuel pushed through earlier this year.

They paved the way for cabbies to drive newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, be yanked off the road more quickly for dangerous driving and spend no more than 12 straight hours on the road.

Aldermen also agreed to make Chicago’s on-again-off-again $1 fuel surcharge permanent — raising the cost of entering a cab, known as the “flag-pull,” to $3.25.

Cab drivers were not appeased, arguing that the $1 surcharge is gobbled up by higher gas prices. They further contended the ordinance takes money out of their pockets by shortening their hours, raising lease rates by as much as 31 percent for the most fuel-efficient vehicles and flooding neighborhood streets with jitney cabs.

“Drivers work eight hours for free every day to come up with the lease and the gas. Then, after eight hours of slaving on the streets of Chicago, they start making money for their family. This must be put to an end . . . Drivers want a piece of this pie,” Khozindar said, arguing that cabbies make less than $5 an hour.

Jennifer Lipford, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, refused to speculate on how successful the Monday morning strike would be.

She would only say, “The mayor passed a new ordinance governing the taxi industry that goes into effect July 1 and will result in safer drivers, cleaner cabs and better options for patrons.”

Chicago cab fares have been frozen since an 11.7 percent increase imposed by the City Council in 2005. Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) vowed to hold a hearing this summer on the drivers’ petition for a 22 percent fare hike. But the drivers say a hearing alone will not be enough. They won’t stop striking on Monday mornings until the City Council approves a fare hike.

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