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updated: 8/11/2017 3:16 PM

Naperville could loosen taxi regulations

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Naperville has spent the past nine months determining whether to loosen its regulations on taxis -- a discussion that has spanned themes of safety, fairness in the business environment and public understanding of city rules.

The conversation could come to an end Tuesday, as the city council is expected to vote on less-stringent regulations for taxi companies and drivers.

The proposed changes would require the city to license each taxi company doing business in Naperville, not each individual driver, yet would still require yearly background checks for drivers and fingerprinting at least every five years.

The taxi regulations would come without any new rules on ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The distinction -- or lack thereof -- between taxis and ridesharing services has caused some on the council to question whether different amounts of city oversight for the two business models is fair.

City council member John Krummen said he sees no practical difference between a taxi and an Uber or Lyft, so he thinks the city should regulate neither or both, instead of only one.

He questions whether the public understands all of the vetting taxi drivers go through, which in Naperville includes a background check, fingerprinting, vehicle inspection, taxi meter inspection and proof of insurance. The process involves multiple steps for the city clerk's office and police, and it takes roughly five months.

"I'd rather have police doing a lot of other things that need to be done," Krummen said, "beyond background-checking taxi drivers."

Others like council member Judith Brodhead don't want to remove background checks, saying they are an important safety precaution.

"I would like to see Uber or Lyft step up their game and perhaps make their customers feel a little bit more secure," Brodhead said, "rather than have us move in the other direction."

While many riders may not know the levels of safety reviews taxi drivers go through, city council member Paul Hinterlong says some who are aware value the peace of mind that comes from riding in a city-scrutinized vehicle.

"I think it's important that we have some kind of level of confidence that our residents can have when they call a cab," Hinterlong said. "It's about giving residents a choice, and I think that's important."

Under current procedures, Naperville licenses about 11 taxi companies and 280 drivers each year.

If the new regulations are approved, city staff members say the application process will be streamlined from months to weeks and will still provide a measure of safety.

Taxi companies will be able to submit their license applications online with company rules, rates, insurance, vehicle inspection and driver information, wait a few days for police to conduct background checks and the city clerk's office to issue taxi stickers, and then visit city hall to pick up their license and materials.

The new procedures could be implemented for the 2018 with application materials online beginning Sept. 1.

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