Mixed Results At Start Of Taxi Driver Strike

Updated 10/08/15 – 11:07 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — An attempt at an organized taxi drivers’ strike was underway Thursday in Chicago, but with many cabbies opting to keep working, the impact depended on where potential passengers were when they needed a ride.

The 24-hour taxi driver strike organized by the United Taxidrivers Community Council seemed to be having more impact on people downtown than travelers at the airports on Thursday, even though the protest was all about the city’s plan to open up O’Hare and Midway to ride-sharing companies.

Part of the reason for the mixed results likely is that UTCC represents only 700 of the 12,000 cabbies in Chicago. Some cab drivers said they weren’t even aware of an effort to organize a strike, while other said it simply wouldn’t work, so they were going about their business as usual.

At O’Hare International Airport, there were plenty of cabs stopped in the waiting area for the cab stand. Downtown, it was a different story, with noticeably fewer taxis on the streets.

Joe Carter, who is part of cab staff security at Union Station, said he’s never seen customers wait this long for a cab in the three years he’s worked there.

“This is a busy place here, and I need the cabs,” he said.

Carter said commuters who normally get a cab right away have been waiting 10 to 15 minutes for a taxi on Thursday.

“Usually, they be on the go right away, but this morning it’s been a little different,” he said.

Peter Ali Enger, chief organizer for the United Taxidrivers Community Council, said cab drivers chose Thursday for their strike, because it is the busiest period of the week for taxis.

“Let’s see if the citizens of Chicago can survive just using the ride shares for one day,” he said. “We’re fighting for our lives. They just need a ride somewhere. It’s a minor inconvenience for them.”

Some taxi drivers said they feel a work stoppage won’t make a difference.

“Enger, you know it’s not going to work. Why are you wasting your time?” said one cab driver who did not plan to join the strike. “I don’t really think that’s the right way to do it.”

Some people who regularly grab a taxi downtown said they noticed the effect of the cabbies’ strike.

“Usually there’s a line of cabs, though. It depends on how many people are waiting,” Krista Silio said. “There’s a little impact, I think, for everybody, but we’ll survive.”

Fellow taxi passenger Shanwn Farrell said he heard about the plans for a taxi strike on Wednesday, but forgot about it by the time he was making his way to work Thursday morning.

“Usually I’m in by now. It depends how many people get off the train.”

Taxi drivers have said the strike is their way of protesting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to allow ride-sharing companies to operate at O’Hare and Midway airports, where they’re currently prohibited from picking up riders.

Even after the start of the cab strike at 6 a.m., cabbies were lining up at O’Hare, waiting for one last fare for the day. Drivers taking part in the work stoppage explained why they’re on strike.

“It looks like the city don’t care about us,” Penn Tanni said. “They allow the ride-share services to do what we are doing, but they don’t pay the city as much as the taxi companies do.”

The taxi industry has long demanded the city regulate the ride-sharing industry the same way it regulates taxis, complaining they face stricter and more expensive regulations than companies like Uber and Lyft.

However, as part of his budget plan for 2016, the mayor has proposed giving ride-sharing firms more freedom – specifically, allowing them to do business at O’Hare and Midway airports and McCormick Place for the first time, in exchange for extra fees.

While the mayor also proposed a 15 percent fare hike for taxis, cab drivers have said that extra revenue would not make up for the business they would lose at the airports and the city’s convention center.

The Emanuel administration has criticized the plan for a taxi strike, calling it irresponsible, and saying it reinforces why Chicago residents and travelers need more options for getting around.

“No one industry should have the ability to disrupt the lives of Chicagoans and travelers by refusing to provide essential transit services. This work stoppage runs the risk of causing significant disruption or inconvenience to passengers arriving at the airports or traveling across the City, as well as the risk of harming public health, safety, and welfare in other ways,” Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek wrote in a letter to the UTCC.

The commissioner said those options could include exercising the city’s executive authority to issue regulations allowing ride-sharing companies to pick up travelers at O’Hare, Midway and McCormick Place.

“The City is prepared to exercise this authority expeditiously if you continue to insist on disrupting the travel of the visitors and residents who currently depend on your services,” she wrote.

Meantime, Uber was trying to capitalize on the taxi strike, offering a $20 discount to first time riders, and free Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee to drivers from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Taxi drivers have tried to organize widespread strikes in the past — at least once in an effort to convince the city to hike fares in 2012, and once earlier this year to protest Uber being granted a “transportation network provider” license to operate in the city — but in each case, many cabbies have kept working, minimizing the impact of a work stoppage by other drivers.

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