Avoid Chicago taxi troubles by knowing what to expect

Always look for the city-issued taxi license medallion. 
Photo by Jay Madden

Always look for the city-issued taxi license medallion. Photo by Jay Madden

Angie's List Chicago member Debra Potter says she finds hailing a taxi in the Windy City to be an unpleasant task because she's been in many that are dirty or smell bad, but the one thing she pays particular attention to is the driver's attitude. "When flagging a taxi on the street, I'm careful to engage the driver before I get in to see how responsive or interested he or she is," Potter says.

She also looks for the city-issued medallion - a metal plate with a number - that must be displayed on the license plate, the hood, both sides and top of the cab. The driver's public-chauffeur license must also be displayed. "You should probably rethink hiring that particular taxi if those things aren't there," says Efrat Stein, public information director of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

With 6,800 licensed cabs, Chicago boasts the nation's second largest taxi population, behind New York City. Stein says the city receives a few thousand complaints each year. "They range from the air conditioner not working to the driver going recklessly to they didn't accept my credit card," she says.

Stein also says to take extra care at the airport, where taxis can only solicit business in the taxi line. "If someone offers you a great deal in the baggage claim area, they're not following the rules and they're probably not licensed," she says.

Laurie Buer of highly rated American Taxi Dispatch in Mount Prospect says about one third of the complaints her company receives actually concern unlicensed cabs with a similar name. "We call them 'bandits.' They use a name like American Taxi, but that's not what they're registered as," she says. "If their name isn't all over the car, they're probably not legitimate."

The fare card with passenger rights spelled out helps to inform taxi riders about the level of service they should expect, says Mike Levine, CEO of Taxi Affiliation Services, which oversees several Chicago affiliations, including highly rated Yellow Cab and Checker Cab. "It's little things like that which can make a ride a little more pleasant," he says.

He says the real test of a good company is how they respond to complaints. "You'll have occasional problems like the guy who grumbles taking your credit card, but how the company responds to issues is how I tell who's a really great company."

To complain about taxi service, go to cityofchicago.org/bacp or call 311. Also, be sure to submit a report on Angie's List after you hire any taxi or limousine services.

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