Cut Traveling Costs: UberX Gets You to the Chicago Airport for Less than a Taxi

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.

Image 8-9-13 at 8.55 AM

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 Kase's rant on Ventra.

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Voices (30)

  1. real driver:

    Listen, idiots…if you don’t want to work for Uber, then DON”T WORK FOR UBER! No one is forcing you, just like no one is forcing you to work for $5/hr at McDs. You don’t deserve a living wage, or some $60,000/yr salary for every single job that exists. You have to start somewhere. Uber driver friends of mine say it is an excellent source of secondary income – the most flexible anytime job they could ever ask for. As for being a passenger? They are easily 1000% better than any taxi for every reason mentioned in this article: cleaner, friendlier, faster, and most of all 30-50% cheaper. Free market working just fine. Consumers win.

  2. Nick:



  3. John:

    UberX drivers are mostly people who failed the exam to get their taxi license. Your argument is invalid. Way to self promote uber.

  4. Philip:


    I love ya, but “I could care less”… If you COULD care less you would!!

  5. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    Talking of Uber, I loved this article about strangers jumping into random’s cars thinking they were an Uber driver!

  6. Uberxuser:

    It’s interesting to say that this driver had a $2MM insurance policy, and also Uber protects its rides by a $1MM insurance policy, can someone please tell me why Uber is refusing to have a $350,000 commercial insurance policy that was suggested by a state bill? clearly $350K is less than $1MM !!! that tells you that something is not right, as a matter a fact Uber is using a scare tactic misleading all its customers that it will go out of business if the state regulation passed!! and Uber is asking its customers to blindly sign a petition asking Governor Quinn to Veto a regulation that passed with a majority both in the State House and Senate and it was carefully drafted and looked at by law makers after speaking with insurance companies that knows the details about Uber $1MM insurance policy, which still couldn’t cover the claim from pedestrians resulting in a six years old girl death (read article below), I think it’s not ethical for a company valued at 18 Billion Dollars to deny coverage, where is the $1MM insurance policy that Uber is cheering about !! please give me a break.

  7. Mark Hillman:

    I’m looking forward to the day when driver-less cars are a reality. My car takes me to work. I tell it “I’m planning to head home at 5:15 pm – go have fun” and let my car pay for itself as it drives people around during the day on Uber-Auto 2.0. And even more looking forward to the day with long-car trips will let me play board games on a table in my reconfigured “car” as it drives us to our vacation location and I get more quality time with my family to do work, etc.

    Oh, and I used Uber for the first time last week. I used the Uber black car to and from the Philly airport. The convenience is fantastic. I quizzed the drivers both ways to and from the airport. They love the model. They have minimized down-time so they make more money in a shorter work day. At least that’s what these two drivers experienced and I realize they may be operating on a different model than UberX drivers. The cost was equivalent to a taxi only because the first time you use Uber, you get $30 off your first ride. So it was $53 to the airport, and $85 home vs. a typical cab ride of $65-70 before tip. Overall, enthusiastic thumbs up.

  8. Bb:

    Right better cars and drivers but uber pays the drivers less than a taxi, in their own cars!? That’s fucked up.

  9. Brendan O'Connell:

    My experience with Uber has been excellent. I find it particularly useful when attending conferences like the MODEX 2014 in Atlanta recently. There was the usual long taxi lines outside the convention hall and then there was my team, our phones and Uber bypassing them all. I would recommend people give it a try.

  10. ChicagoTaxi Driver:

    And by the way… I don’t understand why Yellow Cab, Carriage, Flash and all other companies can’t come up with a similar app. They should unite against Uber and create a similar app and let’s just say they would take 5% of the total fare, which they charge the cab drivers anyway for credit card transactions and no extra charge for the customers! This is already cheaper than Uber for customers and same commission for cab drivers as if the customer was using a credit card. Problem solved!

  11. Bruce:

    Hi let me start by saying that at the new rate of 1.00 per mile in Chicago an Uberx driver could not possibly make a living the most that could be made in an average hour when you factor in an average of 10 mins to get to your ride no pay average of 5 mins for customer no pay that’s going to average 15,00 an hour minus 3.00 to Uber 3.00 to fuel and at least 2.00 for tires oil changes extra maintenance and depreciation that is 7.00 an hour profit this is despicable for Uber to be taking advantage of a weak job market . Most drivers do not factor in that since their driving commercially all the expenses has extra oil changes tires etc etc so they think 15.00 an hour they’ll bring home 12.00 after Ubers fee that’s horrible for this type of work but then when the drivers been working a couple of weeks he or she realizes their not making minimum wage this is terrible Uber should be ashamed of itself

    1. ChicagoTaxi Driver:

      UberX should be illegal! jack dave is absolutely right. Not only UberX drivers are not licensed and their vehicle are not licensed and covered by insurance appropriately, they are taking our business!!! We the cab drivers are not happy about it and the UberX drivers are not happy about how much they make. It’s a loose-loose situation and the only way out is to ban UberX. Black cab and regular Uber are totally fine and they are actually great! UberX need to stop ASAP!!!!

  12. Mr. Anonymous:

    Tips are NOT included. Uber likes to say, “No need to tip,” because they don’t get any of it if a person does tip.

  13. jack dave:

    Facts about chicago uberx,
    1. Drivers are gone through city requirements of,drug test, tb test,criminal background finger printing test, immigration status.
    2. City taxi chauffeur required to go 15 days of classes , on road for two hours,then city exam.
    Uber x driver bypass all the above.
    3. Lic taxicabs have medallions and and pay city,stte and federal taxes. Commercial insurance full coverage,include passengers,driver.
    Uber x insurance requirements are minimal.even liablity suc h as cheap insurers gieko,sr22 are enough to get on road.which doesnt cover passengers being riding as customer of uberx.

    So ride in lic taxis or limos, its ur decision to make. U insurance companies to check on insurance. Coverage that applies or not when travelling in such vehicles.

  14. Pierre Mitchell:

    This is a free market in action. But markets are not perfect, and in this case, the drivers either don’t have perfect information, or are just rolling the dice. As a consumer, Uber has been flawless for me, but I’m just as happy using taxi’s. The biggest direct value has been the transparency and convenience of competitive dispatching. The drivers will have issues either way whether it’s with corrupt dispatchers to pay off (see 9/6/13 Boston Globe article) or with Uber call center staff – and I don’t blame them w/ the problems of either. BUT, I love Uber for introducing competition. After 20 years of dealing with grumpy dispatchers when I call, suddenly they started being nicer about 6 months ago! Strange, why is that? Availability of substitutes! Hit tip to the innovators.

  15. Larry:

    A totally illegal business
    The regulators are turning a blind eye……….unbelivable

  16. NMY:

    I have been driving Uberx on weekends for some extra cash to pay for the school. And I tell you what, I am quiting for the following reasons. 1) Uber doesn’t pay well (the base rate/min fare is $6 (uber takes 20%) so that leaves you $4.80 (and no, tip is not included. It’s common sense, what can be really inclded in a $6. Fare? They say “no need to tip, doesn’t mean it’s included. You drive 20 mins( to go pick up some one, wait, and drive another few miles. It doesn’t even cover for your gas, let alone wear and tear and your time). Not to mention, a rider broke my door handle and uber refuse to charge rider. I drive a 2012 vehicle and the amount its going to cost me to fix that door handle, is more than what I made in a month. 2) I didn’t know this, but a friend mentioned that your insurance will be null and void if your insurance company finds out that you are using your vehicle commercially and you don’t have commercial insurance. (Ridesharing/carrying passenger for hire is considered commercial). It did make sense, so I called my insurance agent, who’s very honest and upfront with me. He said the samething. You are paying for personal use not commercial. If you get iinto an accident, and godforbid, if it’s a wreck, first thing police is going to ask you about your relationship to the passengers. The minute you say, they are the passengers, you will be cited for not carrying the proper insurance. Next, once the insruance company finds out you are driving a personal vehicle for commercial use (commercial rate is double/tripple the personal use) your insurance will be null and void and you are SOL. And if the passenger goes to a hospital/doctors, you will be stuck with the bill. Uber can’t even pay to fix my broken handle, let along they are going to pay for the hospital bill. So, I decided the few extra bucks that I am making, is not worth it. So all you riding Uberx, I urge you think twice before getting into a car. All uber ask for is a proof of insurance. They don’t require you to have full coverage. Some one could be carrying state minimum required for personal use and that doesn’t coveer anything. Uber riders, please beware. I thought it’s my obligation to warn fellow uber drivers and riders. Be safe!

  17. Jason Busch:

    BTW … in answer to the question about pricing with taxis, with a reasonable (suggested) tip, in the traffic that I experienced to O’Hare, it would have been at least $9-$12 higher than the UberX fare. UberX includes the tip!

    1. sma:

      Tip is optional in city cabs dont tip if u dont like service

    2. Chicagocareerdriver:

      Thanks for the informative piece and I’m glad you had a positive experience with UberX. Given my personal involvement I simply must share the following with you and your readers:

      1) UberX pricing is nearly identical to the standard Chicago taxicab rates minus the fees/extras*/tip**
      *extra passengers = extra weight = more fuel consumption;
      *$2 airport fee helps the driver pay for the mandatory airport tax of $4 per pickup that they pay when picking up a passenger at ORD of MDW;
      *”meter-and-a-half to some suburbs” rule ensures that a driver gets compensated for having to drive back empty.
      **Tips are by definition, optional, but then wouldn’t you want to reward a good driver with a tip for good service and discourage a bad driver for poor service with no tip and a call to 311?

      2) When the cab driver offers an alternate route, they just might have a good reason for doing so (it might save you money and time); you can always either check traffic using Google maps and/or tell the driver to take the route that you want him to take. Having the driver take the route of your choice is YOUR legal right and so it is your right to not tip the guy or file a complaint to BACP for things like dirty/smelly cab, refusal of service, rude or otherwise inappropriate behavior, refusal to accept electronic payment, refusal of silence, poor operating condition of taxi driver or taxi vehicle. Those complaints make a big difference, and can get a driver suspended anywhere from a few months to indefinitely. That is a fact.

      3) UberX drivers are (with VERY FEW exceptions) not professional drivers and simply lack navigational/safe driving experience. Just because you had one or two limo/taxi guys try out UberX does not make the case for the rest. More likely than not, these guys are with UberX for a VERY short term (a few days or a couple of weeks at most).

      4) I can say that UberX probably does the background check and possibly even the driving history check but these tests are MOST CERTAINLY NOT stringent by any stretch of imagination. As for their in-person interview and screening, I’d say it’s really more of “Hey, you want to drive with us?”, “Uh, Yes”, “Ok, it’s see your paperwork”, “Here you go”, “Ok, looks good”, “Sign here and welcome to UberX”. There is no “city knowledge exam” of any kind, sorry to disappoint. Although, that cabbie that smelled like he didn’t shower had to study for a long time in order to pass the City of Chicago Taxi Driver exam. I can personally attest to that, as well as to the fact that I do shower every morning.

      5) Tips are NOT included in UberX grand total, and for some odd reason every customer is under the impression that the driver is tipped appropriately.

      6) All fares are rounded down to the nearest dollar, meaning that if your ride was $7.95 it will be rounded down to $7 and the driver will never see that $.095. This completely ignores the time and distance (up to half a mile) which the driver had to cover. Not exactly fare to the driver, now is it?

      7) Need I mention the outrageous 20% fee that the drivers must pay for the privilege of using the UberX app?

      Bottom line: I actually think Uber as a whole is actually doing a good job by introducing competition to the Chicago’s much too stale taxicab industry. They’ve done quite a number to attract legitimate professional drivers to use UberTAXI and UberBLACK/SUV services by offering fair terms of agreement such as decent service rates and adjustable tips. UberX, however, is one service I’m having trouble with. To compare say, UberTAXI and UberX would be like comparing fair-trade coffee with regular coffee, they often taste exactly the same, however, in case of latter, the farmers get pennies for their work for the benefit of the ecstatically dazed but vastly misinformed consumer on the other side of the business equation.

      –Written by one of the many Chicago professional drivers with intentions to inform, disillusion, and hopefully alert the unaware.

    3. John:

      I am an uberX driver. I am very, very intrigued, as well as shocked to learn that we get NO TIP….very misleading for Uber to imply that drivers are being tipped.
      If all of you look at the application on-line, for UberX it is disclosed, in small print (OF COURSE) that there is no tip.
      Welcome to 21century tech company who considers its working force as robots whose pay was recently cut and by the way…..there is no need for tip for 21st century slaves

  18. john ventura:

    Goo uber ,Go home haters

    1. Rachel Galindo:

      Let’t be fair to the UberX drivers that never were told their personal car insurance is void by working with uber and to denied that in case of an accident is consider insurance fraud. Uber’s liability and damage insurance, if any, would cover passengers at uber’s option but not the driver and his or her vehicle. I will hate to see an uberx driver to face this oddity.

  19. Cab driver:

    Ok so you travelled15.4 miles?! I’ll break it down this way what you’d have paid In a regular cab.
    Miles travelled —–15.4. Now, multiply that by 1.8 which is standard charge for 1mile ride in cab(assuming you aren’t In traffic). It’s 27. Now add flag pull of 3.50 & add another 2 dollars surcharge for airport tax. The total’s 32.50. Looks like you we’re in traffic for extra 25 minutes. The time charge on a cab meter only rolls when the vehicle is completely stopped. I’d say the meter would’ve been around what you paid to uberx before tips.

  20. Jason busch:

    Great comments … there are many schools of thought here but my experience is that Chicago taxies drivers themselves are not regulated (or at least regulations are not enforced on the drivers). Many times drivers will pick up a shift from a friend — and not have a clue where they are going. Rinus, good to hear the Boston experience is similar. I say let the free market win and empower riders, as you suggest, to rate and rank through UberX and other services.

    1. Bato:

      Ofcourse the cabs are dirty becouse you dont clean your feet when you get inside so are the others. What cabies should do ? Go clean the car after every ride.

  21. T.Aali:

    Disaster in the waiting, that’s what I call all these hitchhiker rides.
    I’ve been taking cabs for 7 years in Chicago without any incident. City doing a good job keeping good drivers on the streets. Yes some of the cabs are not clean and some drivers are not friendly but my question is who would you trust a licensed driver who choose driving his profession or someone doing to make some extra cash on the side.
    Good luck to all of you using these rides but I would not trust my daughter or any of my family member using these private rides.

    1. sma:

      Yeah true, cab drivers have no criminal records as they are issued licence only after finger print check drug test where as in uber its not like that. He cud be a good person or whatever..

  22. Rachel:

    In the case of California the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) required Uber as part of a temporary agreement to operate the following:

    “Uber shall also provide to the Commission a copy of the insurance policy evidencing $1,000,000 of Excess Public Liability and Property Damage insurance applicable to the provision of transportation services by Non TCP Holders.”

    The Personal Insurance Federation of California (PIFC) that represents six of the nation’s largest insurance companies (State Farm, Farmers, Liberty Mutual Group, Progressive, Allstate and Mercury) which collectively write a majority of the personal lines auto insurance in California. Stated the Following:

    The issue before the CPUC is not ridesharing, but instead using a private passenger vehicle in a livery service. This is clearly not covered under a standard policy; if an accident occurs, coverage would not exist.

    Under this conditions passenger and third parties have insurance protection but not the driver. Drivers are under the impression that they are protected under their own personal car insurance policy but they are clearly not, unless the driver in concert with the passengers denied or do not disclose it was an UberX ride.

    Many Uber drivers are being deactivated and new drivers are constantly being hired to replace them, either a driver is really good or really bad, regardless the criteria that was used to rate them that often times doesn’t have any to do with being professional and more with our biases.

    And one last thing, did your uberX driver enroll in a drug screening program? Well, the answer is no, and uber is going to be more busy once they implement a mandated drug testing program, and I let you elaborate on this one.

  23. Rinus Strydom:

    Short away Jason! I’ve had the same positive experience with UberX in Boston. The inherent ratings of drivers by the masses (my network effect analogy as you expect) is the ultimate incentive for them to keep up their professionalism.

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