For the past eight years Marshall Tolmaire said he worked odd jobs to support his wife and four children, and last year he finally found a permanent way to make money.
The 47-year-old Austin resident said once he became an Uber driver in December the additional money has helped “put food on the table and clothes on our backs. But that could change if Uber and Lyft exit the Chicago market because of politics,” said Tolmaire.
Last week the City Council passed a new ordinance that now requires Uber and drivers for all other ride-sharing companies like Lyft to obtain a chauffer’s license just like taxi drivers. Drivers must also upgrade their vehicles every six years or pay to have their older model vehicles inspected annually.
In April, Isaac Dancer, a 35-year-old UPS employee, began driving for Uber.
“The extra money comes in handy. It’s a cool job that let me sent my own schedule,” said Dancer, an East Garfield Park resident. “Taxis don’t come to the West Side so that’s why Uber has been so successful in black areas.”
Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) sponsored the ordinance and said he bent over backwards to accommodate ride-sharing companies.
“Instead of requiring all drivers to be fingerprinted as part of their criminal background check, I have deferred that part while a study is conducted to determine the effectiveness of having drivers fingerprinted,” Beale, who is also chairman of the Transportation Committee, told Austin Weekly News. “That was a sticking point with the ride-sharing companies. They did not want to have their drivers fingerprinted and I suspect it is because a lot of them would not pass a background check.”
According to Beale, felons are not excluded from being ride-sharing drivers or a city of Chicago employee if their felony conviction is more than five years old. The original ordinance had called for drivers to also be drug tested and pass a physical, but both mandates were later dropped.
Beale added that drivers could obtain their chauffer’s license online instead of attending a class at Olive-Harvey College on the Far South Side where the class is offered.
“It’s a four-hour course drivers can take online and it cost about $115, not $600 as many people think,” added Beale. “This ordinance only requires ride-sharing companies to adhere to the same rules and regulations as cab drivers.”
In a statement, Uber officials said mandating drivers to have a chaffer’s license is unnecessary and unfair.
“These [chauffer’s licenses] are designed for full-time, professional drivers. [Such a mandate] would spell the end of ridesharing in Chicago as we know it today,” Uber officials noted. “Hurting one industry to help another is the wrong approach. We believe that taxi and Uber can t.”
But many West Side residents said they fear the new ordinance might cause Uber to exit the Chicago market, just as it did last month when it pulled out of Austin, Texas due to similar restrictions placed on its drivers.
“Chicago should have learned from the mistake elected officials in Texas made when they tried to make it harder for Uber to operate,” said Vanessa Johnson, 52. “Rather than deal with all the red tape Uber left and now people there are hurting for rides.”
Without Uber or Lyft available, West Side residents said they will have a hard time getting around town.
“People don’t mind catching the bus or train but that’s not always conducive. If a person wants to go to the Laundromat or grocery store they will need a car,” explained Otis Thomas, 78. “Uber has become popular for blacks because most cabs don’t service black neighborhoods.”
However, one cab driver disputes the notion that cabs do not service the West Side.
“I will go wherever my passenger needs me to take them. While residents living on the West Side complain about never seeing a cab residents in white communities have the same complaint,” said Olijai Munatobe, a Chicago cab driver for 25 years. “Cabs circulate in areas where there is the greatest need and that’s not always on the West Side [or South Side].”
Munatobe added that cab drivers scramble every day looking for passengers and it would be counterproductive for them to deny fares based on neighborhoods when trying to make money.
Alderman Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes Austin, voted for the ordinance and said she did so “because I believed, that while it’s definitely not perfect, it offered a reasonable compromise to preserve the availability of these popular and job-creating businesses.”