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Uber, Lyft, and parking meters see higher fees in Chicago’s new budget

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Mayor Lightfoot aims to tackle downtown gridlock

A train on elevated tracks crossing a downtown street between tall towers and buildings.
Downtown Chicago.

Earlier this month, Mayor Lightfoot announced that higher fees on downtown ride-hailing services would be part of the proposed 2020 budget. In a special address on Wednesday, the mayor railed against ride-hailing companies and also introduced higher fees for parking meters.

Single riders in Ubers or Lyfts in the downtown zone will pay the highest in fees, and those choosing shared trips will in surrounding neighborhoods will pay a few cents less than the current fee. In the same announcement in early October, Lightfoot also said that the CTA’s Bus Priority Zone program, which has planned bus-only lanes for a few high-volume routes, will get an expanded budget of $20 million. In the 2018 budget by the Emanuel administration, the existing ride-hailing fee was raised to 67 cents and funded CTA projects.

“If we are smart about this, making this small increase will not hurt our neighborhoods or impair accessibility for disabled riders,” Lightfoot said on Wednesday. “The multi-millionaire owners of those companies have had essentially free reign in Chicago. And if they cared as much about equity as they say, they would cut their drivers in on a bigger share of profits, improve their working conditions, and not pass their costs on to them.”

Lightfoot’s administration expects that the higher fees will bring in about $40 million in additional revenue. Plus, it also acts as an incentive for the use of public transit and could reduce vehicle emissions if successful in reducing the number of ride-hailing trips, the mayor’s office said. In Chicago, ride-hailing has grown 271 percent in the past few years, according to the mayor’s office.

In addition to this, one of the administration’s 2020 initiatives will be to launch a study that investigates how congestion impacts Chicago communities and recommends long-term policy solutions. The cost of congestion is well-documented and disproportionately affects low-income families, Curbed’s Alissa Walker explains in a column from earlier in 2019.

Lightfoot’s 200-page budget proposal also includes adding parking meters to the West Loop and increasing the rates on downtown parking meters which will bring in an additional $7 million. Downtown parking meter rates would increase by 50 cents, totaling to $7 or $4.50 depending the area of the central business district. Parking meters in the West Loop would primarily be near retail and cost $4.50.

Due to one of the city’s worst deals in 2008, revenue from parking meters is collected by Chicago Parking Meters LLC as part of a 75-year agreement. It’s unclear how the city will be able to keep the money from the increases and additions, but the budget notes that “reconciliation” payments are only made when the parking meter rates are not adjusted correctly or when parking spaces are removed. The cost of this agreement in 2020 is estimated at a total of $14 million.