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Chicago Could Limit Rideshare Surge Prices During 'Unforeseen Emergencies'

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 31, 2017 3:55PM

Commuters wait outside the Belmont CTA station after service disruption / Photo: Emma Reed

In the wake of the morning-rush-hour commuter nightmare that disrupted some CTA train service about two weeks ago, a Chicago alderman is pushing for surge pricing caps for rideshare companies during emergencies. The measure—which was pushed through the City Council's Transportation Committee on Wednesday—would also require outfits like Uber and Lyft to fingerprint drivers as a safety precaution.

The measure was sponsored by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who has long been something of a gadfly toward the rideshare industry in Chicago. He advocated last year for fingerprinting as the city and ridehsare companies butted heads over regulations, but the stipulation never made it into the watered-down final ordinance. However, part of the compromise included the creation of a task force that would investigate the effectiveness of fingerprinting checks—but any results have yet to be released.

As for the anti-surge pricing criteria, companies could not hike rates above 150 percent of the average regular fare during the seven days that preceded an "unforeseen" emergency. Companies could not "surge" beyond that threshold for emergencies "including, but not limited to terrorist attacks, mass shootings, disruptions in public transportation, and inclement weather," according to the measure.

Surging pricing could still be applicable for "planned events" i.e. "sporting events, festivals, parades and other public events." Violators would get slapped with a $500 fine per violation if the measure passes.

The surge stipulation of course follows the monumental transit ordeal on August 15, when service was suspended on Red, Brown and Purple lines after a body was discovered on the tracks near the Fullerton stop.

Rideshare fares reportedly surged up to almost $100 for some downtown routes. Both Uber and Lyft said the day of the surge that they tried to get more drivers on the road. By the end of the week, both companies had started giving out refunds to users who were slapped with higher-than-average fares.

It's not certain that ordinance has the legs to clear the full City Council (Mayor Rahm Emanuel stood defiantly athwart Beale's earlier rideshare regulation demands.) But it'll be interesting to see how and if this one develops.