Cab drivers lament long hours, low pay — but won’t get help from city
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org July 31, 2012 4:22PM
Updated: July 31, 2012 6:22PM
Claiming to work seven days a week for less than minimum wage, Chicago cabdrivers made their case for a 23 percent fare hike Tuesday, but came away empty-handed — again.
“It’s been seven years. I’m beginning to feel like I’m a slave — like I’m working for nothing,” cabdriver Finn Ebelechukwu told the City Council’s Transportation Committee.
“The discrimination against cabdrivers in this city is unconscionable. We’re being treated as less than human beings. This is not a business where you can make a living.”
Cabbie Ehsan Ghoreishi warned that driving a cab is becoming a “dead-end” job and said service will suffer.
“With more hours put in and not a fair share of return profits, stress, frustration and even anger are the consequences,” he said.
“People who have other options ... will continue to be driven out of the taxicab industry. What Chicagoans will be left with is the most desperate and unskilled workforce that will dominate the industry.”
After three hours of emotional testimony, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s taxicab reforms be given at least six months to deliver more fuel-efficient cabs before a fare hike is even considered.
“My heart does go out to the drivers because they don’t have health insurance and it is a tough job. But this is not about how much they make. This is about how much Chicagoans pay,” Krimbel said.
“We made the [$1 fuel] surcharge permanent. That’s an increase for them because gas has been going down.…The ordinance went into effect on July 1. That’s 30 days ago. That’s not enough time to see how the new ordinance is working.”
Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) was a bit more sympathetic to the demand for a fare hike, but made no promises.
Beale scheduled the hearing even though a petition drive fell short of the 1,120 valid signatures needed to mandate a hearing.
“I want everybody to know that I heard their concerns. Some of it was very passionate and it is not taken lightly,” Beale told the drivers.
“We’re gonna gather all the data from the ordinance we passed to see how that’s panning out and then we’re going to see the right thing to do. You all can rest assured. I pride myself on doing the right thing — not the politically correct thing.”
Chicago cab fares have been frozen since an 11.7 percent increase imposed by the City Council in 2005. The last increase before that — 16.6 percent — was approved in 2000 and tied to a controversial requirement that cabdrivers answer at least one radio call each day in under-served communities.
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.
Cabdrivers 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.
A few weeks ago, cabbies tried to press their case by ordering a Monday morning strike between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Like prior cab strikes, the walkout appeared to have minimal impact downtown. But drivers insist that they made it tougher to get a cab at O’Hare Airport.