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With So Many People Staying Home During Pandemic, Chicago Cab Drivers See Steep Drop In Rides; 'We Going Broke'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The number of active taxi cabs on Chicago's streets has dropped down to just 1,000, compared to more than 3,000 this time last year, according to Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500.

The union said taxis were already hurting due to the rise of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, but low ridership and health concerns from COVID-19 is keeping many cabbies at home.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas met one driver struggling to make it work.

A rainy day in the Loop would usually be a good time to catch a cab, but cabbie Kapriccio Duncan said there's nothing usual about these times.

"You talking about 66 to 75 percent loss, overall," he said.

People aren't going anywhere, and if they are, many aren't taking cabs.

"If we don't receive any financial relief, or any help from the city or somewhere, there's gonna be a lotta guys who are gonna say 'You know what? Maybe I can find something else to do.'"

CBS 2 asked the city if there's any relief out there for cabbies. They said some taxicab medallion owner-operators are eligible for the city's microbusiness recovery grant program, which is offering up to 1,000 one-time $5,000 grants to businesses with fewer than five employees in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

Businesses have until Monday to apply for the grants, but Duncan doesn't qualify, because, like many drivers, he doesn't own a taxi or medallion; he's independent contractor who leases a car from a company for about $475 a week.

So what can he do?

"I haven't heard anything personally. I haven't talked to any drivers that heard anything. Maybe it's still something they working on. I don't know, but as of right now we've heard nothing," Duncan said.

The city said drivers who lease their cabs could qualify for new unemployment benefits if COVID-19 cut their hours.

In Illinois, they won't get those funds until the week of May 11, at the earliest--if they qualify.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 is posting updates on their Facebook page, with information to help guide cab drivers through the unemployment process.

Important--Please read! I know everyone is receiving letters saying you are ineligible and benefit amount is zero. This...

Posted by Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 on Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Meantime, the Small Business Administration has said independent contractors might qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, depending on how the classify their business and report their income.

Duncan said he's looking into that, but he feels it's not a sure thing.

"It's not as easy as people think," he said. "It's rough, we going broke."

He's now worried people will be hesitant to hop in a cab, even after the stay-at-home order is lifted.

The city also announced last month it would be waiving or postponing collections for some fines and fees for cab drivers for the month of April, and is also doing so for the month of May. They also said they were working on a subsidy for the taxicab industry.

The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection released the following statement:

"The City has extended the deferral of Ground Transportation Tax and Accessibility Fee payment to June 1 and extended the deferral of the deadline for debt checks for TNP and taxi drivers to that same date. We are also continuing to defer inspections of vehicles and renewal of licenses while BACP offices remain closed. Finally, we have created a direct subsidy for wheelchair accessible taxicab drivers by increasing the annual subsidy for vehicle maintenance by $1,000, increasing the driver leasing subsidy from $15 to $25/hour."


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