Chicago mulls hiking fares for ride-hailing solo downtown

Chicago officials are considering an increase in ride-hailing fees for solo riders traveling downtown, in a move aimed at reducing traffic congestion and pushing more drivers to pick up passengers in the city's predominantly minority areas.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she will recommend the "short-term, modest" plan to give breaks to passengers who pool their rides to tide Chicago over until a long-term study is completed on how a more complex and broader, London-style congestion fee might work.

"What we know is that there is a lot of single-occupancy riding, if you will, particularly from the North Side into the Central Business District," she told a local radio station Thursday in a pre-recorded broadcast. "We definitely are considering giving a break to those who are using pool transportation and charging more for single occupancy rides."

After dropping their solo passengers downtown, Lightfoot said, most cars end up "idling around" waiting for another passenger, while the mostly black and Latino South and West Sides remain "a bit of a transportation desert."

"But those are also areas where there's more car-pooling. So, what we're looking at is ways we can incentivize folks to use the most environmentally friendly form of mobility," she said.

For months, transportation specialists have debated, both in public and privately, about what a congestion fee would look like in Chicago. They've advocated a higher fee in the jammed downtown area with a substantial focus on passengers riding alone.

Chicago currently levies a "72-cent flat, fixed charge per ride booking" on Uber, Lyft and Via that "does not fully support the goals of equity and reducing congestion and greenhouse emissions," transportation experts from the Metropolitan Planning Council and seven other groups have expressed to Lightfoot.

During the radio interview, Lightfoot also discussed potentially imposing a new city sales tax on items purchased online. But like a sales tax on lawyers, accountants and other professional services, it requires approval from the Illinois General Assembly and would have a slim chance during the shortened veto session.

Lightfoot is set to deliver her first budget address in two weeks, in which she will outline proposals to close Chicago's $838 million deficit in 2020.