I’ve lived in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago for just about twelve years. It’s a wonderful city on so many levels – aside from local government corruption, high taxes, and all that. But my one complaint has always been the relative cost of taxis compared to the level of service you receive. Most are dirty, and at least once a year, someone in the family has a driver who begins to nod off on the way to the airport, having worked clearly past his regular shift. In fact, we’ve stopped taking taxis before 5:00 AM for this reason if going to the airport entirely – yet it still happens, sometimes even later in the morning.
Chicago taxi drivers also wouldn’t know a direct route if it smacked them over the steering wheel. And few drivers have access to traffic information. Almost weekly, I’m in a taxi where the driver suggests an extra 0.75 mile detour into heavy traffic on Lake Shore drive – versus a direct route – back to my apartment, which would have saved 5-10 minutes and at least a couple of bucks.
Alas, all this is history. Here in the Busch/Reisman household, we’re done with taxis as the fast and cheap means of getting from Point A to Point B as of now. And for good reason: UberX has arrived in the Windy City. It’s blowing in faster than you can say “Old Police Interceptor with 350,000 miles with a driver who smells like he last bathed before perestroika.”
By my calculations and experience, UberX is at least 20% -- and sometimes even 25% or more – cheaper than a taxi. The cars are clean. The drivers are also professional (mine this week has his limo license). Upon getting into a UberX from Lakeview to O’Hare reently (in a Toyota Rav4 that was much cleaner than my car), which arrived in less than five minutes after my iPhone app request, my driver asked me if I was in a rush. I told him I was not.
He proceeded to drive as well as any limo driver I’ve had before – slowly, carefully, cautiously. Much better than 99% of taxi drivers. I suppose if I were in a rush he would have stepped on it. But no need.
He was also insured and had qualifications beyond that of many taxi drivers. According to an Uber white paper, this driver had “at minimum … a $2,000,000 insurance policy applicable to ridesharing trips … [an amount that] applies to any ridesharing trip requested through the Uber technology platform.” Moreover, the driver an passed “extensive and strict background check.” I felt in good hands knowing that “the criteria for which a driver will be disqualified will be stricter than what any existing local regulatory body already has in place for commercial transportation providers.”
In addition, according to the Uber site, “all Uber rides [are] … backed up by our corporate insurance policy, and riders always have the option to rate every driver and improve the system with their feedback." In total, according to Uber, Chicago UberX drivers must meet the following requirements:
- Stringent background check
- Driving history check
- In-person interview and screening
- A city knowledge exam
- On-going quality controls
Just like a typical Chicago cabbie. Right.
But I could care less if a driver met these requirements and the cost was higher than a cab. Fortunately, it’s not. Check out this all-in cost to the airport from Lakeview (my home): $35. Broken down, the base fare was $3.15. The distance charge was $24.23 and the time charge was $8.15 (for 51 minutes, most of it in traffic on the Kennedy). Tip is included. In a taxi, the total cost including tip in this traffic would have easily been $46.00 or $47.00.
And the Toyota Rav4 was quiet and large enough to conduct a conference call with my 15-inch MacBook wide open. Try that in a dirty old cab.
Uber lists on their site that the base fare for an UberX is 3.15 (15 cents less than a taxi). The per-mile charge is $1.75 (and the waiting charge is 40 cents per minute) for up to four passengers. Compare this with a .20 charge for 1/9th of a mile ($1.80) a “1.00 charge for the first additional passenger over the age of 12 and under the age of 65, and $.50 for each additional passenger” in a regular taxi in Chicago. And of course tip is extra (and cabbies complain constantly about taking credit cards for short trips).
With UberX, everything is billed and put on a card. You’re out the moment you stop – with a receipt sent via email, just like all of the other Uber options. Which in comparison are much more! For example, an Uber black car has a base fare of $7 in Chicago and charges $3.50 per mile (and $.85 per minute of waiting time).
Perhaps there’s a good reason Chicago taxi medallion prices are trending down. The most recent July price data shows the market price at $357,000. Now that’s money that would buy, by my estimations, over a thousand lifetimes of much needed deodorant for a typical Chicago taxi driver. Heck, you could make the entire yellow cab fleet of drivers smell like a rose (or at least Axe) for that amount until Rahm’s next term.
What’s been your experience with UberX? I’m curious to see if I’ve gotten lucky in my early rides with great drivers or if my good fortune with this new low cost taxi replacement is consistent across the board. If this is as good as it seems, I’d short a Chicago medallion with leverage if I could.
If you're curious about the complicated world of Chicago transportation, read Thomas Kases's rant on Ventra.