by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) — Facing what they called a “disturbing trend” of people impersonating Uber and Lyft drivers to rob or sexually assault drunken or otherwise unwitting passengers, Chicago aldermen have advanced an ordinance to impose hefty fines of up to $20,000 and up to 6 months in jail for anyone caught masquerading as a rideshare driver.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced the ordinance which would make it a crime for anyone to “impersonate a transportation network driver or falsely represent themselves as a transportation network driver” either by claiming to work for a rideshare company, or by falsely displaying real or fake signs from a ride hailing firm.

The City Council Public Safety Committee voted Thursday afternoon to approve the ordinance. Violators would face a fine of $10,000 to $20,000, and up to 6 months in jail.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) proposed a similar ordinance in 2018, but it never got a vote. Reilly said, since then, there has been a growing trend of criminals posing as Uber and Lyft drivers to kidnap, rob, and sexually assault unsuspecting passengers.

“This is a disturbing trend that we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” Reilly said. “In the last two years, four women have been raped by a rideshare driver. We’ve had a number of incidents of people being robbed at gunpoint in alleys just feet from where they were picked up.”

Chicago Police Lt. John Cannon, who works the midnight shift in the 18th District, which covers most of downtown and the Near North Side, said criminals have been exploiting the rise of services like Uber and Lyft in order to prey on innocent victims.

“They seek out victims late at night in entertainment districts throughout the city that are simply looking for a safe and responsible ride home, in order to commit offenses such as criminal sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, theft, and other serious offenses,”

Reilly said victims such cases typically have been drinking heavily before arranging for a ride with Uber or Lyft, and then got into the wrong vehicle, only to end up being robbed or raped.

“In many cases, young people are making the very good decision not to drive to these bars, but in some cases they look at that as a license to overdrink, and when you overdrink and you’re dependent upon someone else to get you home, that poses a tremendous risk to your personal safety,” he said.

The alderman said, while the city and local businesses also should do more to remind rideshare customers to make sure they’re getting into the right car when they arrange for a ride by making sure the license plate matches the one listed in their app, he said the city should also crack down on scammers who pretend to be rideshare drivers.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said he’s personally been a victim of getting in the wrong car, when he summoned a Lyft for himself and his friends after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.

“I made the unfortunate mistake of getting in the wrong shared ride. Thankfully, I was with a group of individuals, and we all got in the wrong car,” Lopez said. “Our sobriety was the reason.”

Lopez said it was “harrowing enough” simply having to argue with the driver, and come up with a few bucks to convince him to let them out, so he could only imagine what might have happened if he’d been alone, or if the driver had more nefarious intent.

“No woman, no man should ever feel that they are … at the mercy of someone in this situation,” he said. “Nobody should ever have to fight to get out. Nobody should be at the mercy of some predator who now has you in their car and is taking you somewhere you don’t know,”

Lopez also suggested the city should consider an ordinance allowing police to impound the vehicle when someone is caught pretending to be an Uber or Lyft driver.

“The best way is to truly hit them where it hits in all fronts,” he said.

Reilly’s ordinance, which has the support of Uber and Lyft, now goes to the full City Council for a vote next week.