An association representing Chicago taxicab drivers recently lost their attempt to invalidate a City of Chicago ridesharing ordinance as unconstitutional.
The crux of the cab drivers claim in Illinois Transportation Trade Ass’n v. City of Chicago, was that a City ordinance governing Transportation Network Providers (TNPs) like Uber and Lyft was too mild and didn’t subject TNPs to the same level of government oversight as Chicago cab drivers; especially in the areas of licensing and fair rates. (For example, TNPs are free to set their own rates by private contracts; something taxicabs can’t do.)
The cab drivers argued the Ordinance’s less onerous TNP strictures made it hard if not impossible for the City cabs to compete with TNPs for consumer business.
The Seventh Circuit struck down all of the plaintiffs claims and in doing so, discussed the nature of constitutional challenges to statutes in the modern, ridesharing context.
Deprivation of Property Right Without Compensation
The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ first argument that allowing TNPs to enter the Chicago taxicab market deprived plaintiffs of a property interest without compensation.
Finding that a protected property right does not include the right to be free from competition, the Court noted the City wasn’t depriving the plaintiffs of tangible or intangible property. All the Ordinance did was codify Chicago cab drivers’ exposure to a new form of competition – competition from ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.
And since the right to be free from competition is not a legally valid property right, the plaintiffs’ misappropriation of property theory failed. The Court wrote that to indulge the plaintiffs’ argument that it had a property right in eliminating transportation service competition would give taxi drivers an unfair monopoly on all commercial transportation.
Equal Protection Claim: Cab Drivers and TNPs Should Be Subject to the Same Regulations
Striking down the plaintiffs’ equal protection claims, the Court framed the issue as whether “regulatory differences between Chicago taxicabs and Chicago TNPs are arbitrary or defensible.” It found the regulatory variations were indeed defensible. In reaching this holding the Court focused on the salient differences between taxicabs and TNPs including their distinct business models and levels of driver oversight and screening, as well as stark differences in consumer accessibility: where riders can hail a cab on any street, TNP users must first sign up with the TNP and install an app on their smartphone to hire TNP drivers.
A Dog Differs From a Cat and a Taxi Differs from a TNP Like Uber
In the end, it was the blatant qualitative differences between cab service and TNPs that carried the day and sealed the fate of plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to the Ordinance. The Court found there were measurable differences between taxis and TNPs in the areas of business model, driver screening and rate-setting, among others, that justified the City’s different regulatory schemes.
The Court found that the watered-down (according to Plaintiffs, anyway) TNP Ordinance rightly recognized the glaring differences between taxis and TNPs and was rationally related to the City’s interest in fostering competition in commercial transportation business.
This case presents an interesting application of established constitutional equal protection principles to a progressive electronic commerce context.
In the end the case turned on whether leveling the competitive playing field to the cab drivers’ liking by striking down the Ordinance resulted in stifled competition. Since the Court said the answer to the question was “yes,” the taxi drivers’ constitutional challenge failed.