The 7-Year Itch: Desperate for Fare Increase, Chicago Cabbies Continue Weekly Strike
Angry over new ordinance raising vehicle lease limits, drivers push for fare hike and meeting with City Hall
CHICAGO—In many ways, taxi drivers typify America’s steadily expanding freelance economy. On the surface they’re in control, setting their own hours and routes with no boss looking over their shoulders. Look a little deeper, though, and cabbies are essentially modern-day sharecroppers—virtually all are independent contractors in a tightly regulated industry dominated by big companies leasing cabs. They begin each day in the red and, as gas and vehicle lease rates rise without a fare increase, must work longer hours just to break even.
In Chicago, where taxi drivers haven’t had a fare raise in seven years, many in the industry have been pushed to the breaking point. Last week the United Taxi Community Council (UTCC), the closest thing to a union cabbies have here, held a five-hour strike to bring attention to its call for a 22-percent fare increase. Chicago City Council approved an 11.7 percent increase in 2005, when the price of a gallon gas here averaged about $2.50.
UTCC Secretary Peter Enger said 80 percent of the city’s approximately 10,000 cabs were off the road during the morning of Monday, July 2, and dubbed the action “a victory.” (City officials disputed that the action significantly disrupted taxi availability, and there was no way to verify Enger’s estimate.) The next day, UTCC’s strike committee voted to hold another work stoppage this morning (July 9) and continue the temporary strikes on a weekly basis until UTCC representatives are granted a meeting with the mayor’s office to talk about a fare increase, says UTTC strike committee head Finn Ebelechukwu.
“All we are asking for is the city to come to the table with us,” Ebelechukwu said. On Friday, it was announced that the City Council's transportation committee will hold a hearing on a possible increase on July 31. Ebelechukwu called that “a positive development,” but noted what UTCC wants is a meeting with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, the arm of City Hall—aka, Mayor Rahm Emanuel—that regulates Chicago’s taxi industry.