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What Rahm Needs to Know About the Taxi Industry

One former cabby berates the mayor about the city’s short-sighted taxi policies.

Photo: John Lee/Chicago Tribune

To:
Office of the Mayor
Chicago City Hall, 4th Floor
121 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60602

I keep hearing about how you’re planning to overhaul the city’s taxi industry. Clearly there’s plenty of room for improvement, but some of what you have in mind keeps me up at night.

You want to restrict the hours that a cabby can drive per day, but that’s one of the few freedoms we have: We choose when we work and when we don’t. It’s not a nine-to-five job, and it doesn’t pay enough to make it worthwhile when limited to a strict set schedule. It’s a 24/7 business, and it demands a work force1 that can accommodate and bend with its ever-variable needs.

You want to better police reckless drivers, as though all the tools to do so weren’t already in place. Instead of adding more bureaucratic hoops2 for us to jump through, why not get the secretary of state (that’s what we in Chicago call the DMV) to join the 20th century (I know the 21st would be a stretch). There’s no reason that the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates cabs and cab drivers, shouldn’t have access to driving records, for example. As it stands, every year when I renew my chauffeur’s license I have to go back and pay $12 for the cashier to push a button on her computer and print out my motor vehicle record, then carry it back to BACP and present it to them. This is just one of a dozen superfluous steps in the yearly headache every Chicago taxi driver is subjected to for the privilege of continuing to earn his living. There’s got to be some way to streamline the process a bit and let us get on with the task of getting by.

You want us to work less? Then raise the fare rates to at least keep up with the cost of living. As of this writing, cab rates have remained unchanged for six or seven years3. I’m sure you know the statistics: Chicago has the lowest cab rates of any major city4 in America. I don’t expect New York rates5, but we’re killing ourselves for a pittance out there.

Some think the city should get out of regulating fare prices altogether. I don’t. This is a unique business because we provide public transportation—an alternative to the CTA—yet are not city employees. In fact we’re no one’s employees. All cab drivers these days are either owner-operators6 or independent contractors. Chicago’s citizens deserve to have an idea what their ride will cost them. Leaving it up to the companies or individual cabbies would be utter chaos.

But that doesn’t mean the city should micromanage our every move; we’re not children. Ease up on the fees and nuisance traffic stops and give us a chance to get by.

Can you do that?

Sincerely,
Dmitry Samarov, cab driver (until recently)
Chauffeur’s license 84337

Adapted from Where To? A Hack Memoir by Dmitry Samarov (Curbside Splendor, $16), out September 9

1 About 6,700 taxis operate in Chicago.
2 A chauffeur’s license requires taking a $305 class and paying a $16 application fee and a $9 annual renewal fee. You must also pass a drug test and be fingerprinted.
3 Actually, Chicago raised its starting fare in 2012, but mileage fees haven’t risen since 2005.
4 Not quite. Two of the nation’s 10 biggest cities—Dallas and Houston—charge less for a ride than Chicago, according to the website Taxi Fare Finder.
5 Chicago fares start at $3.25 and add 20 cents for each additional 1/9 mile or 36 seconds. New York fares start at $3 and add 50 cents per 1/5 mile or 60 seconds. A five-mile trip with a five-minute wait time costs $13.92 in Chicago and $18 in New York.
6Want in? You’ll need at least $360,000, the starting bid for the city’s ongoing auction of new taxi medallions. That’s up from $185,000 in 2010 and $60,000 in 2006.

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