Car service's fight with city hall gains steam online

November 05, 2012|By Mick Swasko, @mickswasko | RedEye

New regulations on city limo drivers could force a shutdown of on-demand car service Uber, and the company isn’t taking it lying down.

Under a proposed change to city ordinances made by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Uber’s limo services, Uber Black, would no longer be able to use electronic measuring devices to calculate fare--a staple of the company’s service--nor would they be able to charge based on time or distance. Instead, all limos would have to charge a pre-determined rate.  

Uber has been in Chicago for more than a year. The company allows customers to order cabs or limos using smart phone apps and text messaging. Uber also stores a user's credit card information so payment for a car is automatic.

In protest to the changes, Uber has taken to its blog, asking Chicagoans to get involved in the public comment period for the proposed regulations, which ends Nov. 9. The company has also asked users to post to Mayor Emanuel’s Facebook wall, tweet BACP Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel and sign a petition in support of the company. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had about 700 signatures, and hundreds had posted on Emanuel’s Facebook wall in support.

“Collectively, these provisions are designed to prevent Uber’s technology from being used in Chicago limos,” a blog post on Uber’s site reads. “Their adoption would end Uber’s ability to offer the streamlined arrangement of limo transportation and ease of payment that you’ve come to expect and love.”

Allen Penn, general manager of Uber Chicago, said the company was surprised by the proposal.

"I'm at a bit of a loss as to why (the regulations) came about," he said, adding he has not heard a response from the city about the company's concerns. He also said consequences of the shutdown are "clear and pretty significant," meaning lost revenue for limo drivers who partner with the service. He also said the regulations represent a hindrance for those in the Chicago tech community who develop apps like Uber.

“Not just for our business, but in general for the future of Chicago around innovation and technology, we’re concerned," he said. 

A statement from the mayor’s office did not address the reason for the changes.

"We are committed to working with companies that offer Chicagoans more transportation choices, more certainty, and higher quality customer service options,” the statement reads. “Uber, and other companies are pioneering new ways to access Chicago’s robust transportation offerings, and we continue to work with them and others to ensure we have modern laws that accommodate modern transportation technologies."

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