By Jacob Heubert -
I don’t usually enjoy sitting through Chicago City Council committee meetings.
The ones I’ve attended have typically involved aldermen blustering about how the city needs to ban, restrict or control one thing or another, with no regard for individual rights or economic sense.
But last Thursday’s meeting of the council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection was different.
The committee met to consider how the city should regulate ridesharing services such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar. Representatives from the ridesharing companies were there and explained how their services work. But what made this hearing so enjoyable was the testimony by drivers and customers who use these services about how ridesharing has changed their lives.
Among many others, these people included:
- A single mother who can’t have a 9-to-5 job because she has to take care of her special-needs child. She said she doesn’t receive unemployment or welfare benefits because driving for Lyft has given her a flexible work schedule that allows her to be there for her child and make ends meet.
- A young man who came to Chicago from Kansas to become a stand-up comedian. Driving for UberX has given him the flexibility to earn a living while also pursuing his dream.
- A man whose highly active 86-year-old mother wouldn’t give up driving until he introduced her to Lyft. His mother loves talking with the drivers and getting to continue to do the things she loves.
- A mother whose two children graduated from Chicago Public Schools and now are in college. By driving for UberX, she was able to help her daughter make tuition payments at one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.
- A man who works on the South Side and is often told “no” when he asks a taxi driver to take him there. Ridesharing services will drop him off and pick him up every time.
- A man who moved to the suburbs years ago, who started driving for UberX and now wants to move back into the city. He loves discovering the far-flung neighborhoods he otherwise never would have visited, where the taxis won’t go, and meeting people he otherwise never would have met.
And there were many more people who testified that their lives and communities have been changed for the better because of ridesharing.
I spoke, too, urging the committee to come up with a new ridesharing ordinance that doesn’t contain the anticompetitive features of the proposal Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced in February.
Only a few people had anything at all negative to say, most notably Mara Georges, the former corporation counsel for the city under Mayor Richard M. Daley, who now works as a lobbyist for the taxi industry. Without much explanation, she accused the other witnesses of spreading misinformation.
It would be hard for anyone with a heart or a brain to listen to the testimony at that hearing and want to stifle ridesharing. Once you know how good these services are from personal experience and from hearing the experiences of others, it’s easy to see that this is something that should be encouraged, not eliminated.
That’s why the taxi industry, which feels threatened by ridesharing, has started focusing more of its lobbying efforts on the Illinois General Assembly, where legislators and their constituents are less likely to be familiar with ridesharing, which so far only exists in Chicago.
Still, destructive regulation by the city will remain a threat until the council adopts an ordinance that makes ridesharing legal without restrictions that are anticompetitive or otherwise burdensome.
So if you live in Chicago, you should tell your alderman that you support ridesharing freedom. And if you live anywhere in Illinois, you should tell your state legislators to keep their hands off ridesharing entirely.
If the city and the state are ever going to get on the road to economic recovery, it will be through economic liberty and the innovation and prosperity it brings. Letting the ridesharing success story continue would be a good start.
Jacob Heubert is Senior Attorney at the Liberty Justice Center