Since the advent of Uber and Lyft and similar ride-share services, it is no secret that the traditional taxicab business has suffered greatly. The issue came before City Council previously when the City decided, as a matter of policy, not to regulate rideshare services. Instead, Council decided to rely upon recently enacted State regulatory schemes.
The matter returned to Council recently when the holders of Evanston taxicab licenses sought relief from current City fees, requirements, and regulations imposed upon taxis in Evanston. Council wrestled briefly with the issue at its April 25 meeting. At that time, the City agreed to a moratorium on penalties imposed for late payment of annual renewals of taxi licenses.
Annual renewals, due by the end of April, ordinarily cost at least $250, plus the Evanston wheel tax and any late fees. Failure to renew a license can result in the auctioning off of that license on the open market.
Numerous license owners appeared at both the April 25 and May 9 City Council meetings to plead for assistance from the City. The problem cited most often was the lack of available drivers for taxis in Evanston.
Evanston requires taxi vehicles to be licensed and requires vehicle drivers to obtain a “chauffer’s license.” The staff memo noted a decline in chauffeur’s licensees, from 227 in 2013 to 208 in 2015.
In order to get a chauffeur’s license, an applicant must pay for a criminal background check ($16), take a two-day class offered by the City ($100), provide evidence of a medical checkup ($50-$125), provide two pictures, and pay an annual fee ($25). Rideshare services require only the criminal background check. Other than the two-day class, the fees must be paid (a renewal is $20) every year.
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar pointed out that the City’s taxicab ordinances are the product of another time, a time before rideshare. “The ordinances governing and regulating the cab system were relevant in 1982 and 1985,” he said. “Regulations in the City Code could benefit from revision and/or elimination.”
City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons said City staff was “not recommending ‘no regulation’,” but a loosening or eliminating of some, if not most, of the regulations. The State can take the lead on licensing, he said.
Most on the Administration and Public Works Committee seemed to agree. “Why do we need to issue a taxi license every year?” ask Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “Every year they have to do that?” she added, and pay the associated fees. “I did not know these things. I did not know it cost up to $410 a year to renew a license.”
“If they have to go to the State of Illinois to be renewed,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, “I don’t see why they have to come to us [the City] to be renewed.”
“We can certainly do that,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “This is all a creature of the City of Evanston, 30 years ago.”
The Committee voted to hold the matter to allow the City legal staff to prepare an amended ordinance, to be presented within 30 to 45 days. The new ordinance, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, will provide “streamlined costs… [and] look to the state of Illinois. If they license, we don’t need to.”
Late fees and other penalties for non-renewal will be suspended until the new ordinance can be presented and discussed. “A July 1 effective date would be a great goal,” Mr. Bobkiewicz concluded.