Blame city of Chicago for price gouging of O'Hare suburban taxi riders

Give WGN9 credit for a fine investigative report on “The airport hustle: Unauthorized drivers looking to take passengers for a ride.

WGN undercover reporters described (see video below) how unlicensed drivers are gouging O’Hare International Airport arriving passengers. One driver wanted to charge a reporter $89-$100 to suburban Naperville when a pre-arranged ride with a legitimate ride costs $50.

Even experienced ground transportation riders such as myself get scammed. We thought we were arranging a ride to our suburban home, but ended getting charged $65 for a ride that normally costs $34.

The city of Chicago, owner of the airport, boasts how it is trying oh so very hard to prevent the victimization of suburban customers who use the pre-arranged perusal “ground transportation.”


It is the city of Chicago’s own rules that are the root cause of tens of the atrocious treatment of thousands O’Hare travelers every day. Here’s why.

Exit the baggage claim lobby on the lower level of the terminal service road and you’ll find a line of cabs that will take you into Chicago. Standard rates apply. The cabs are waiting there for you to board. Usually little or no waiting.

But if you want to get a ride  to any suburb (except for a few adjoining towns like Elk Gove Village), you will be charged not just the standard meter fare, but 50 percent more. In other words a fare and a half.

If a suburban rider wants to avoid that city-inspired gouging, he must “pre-arrange” a ride with an authorized suburban cab company, such as 303 Taxi Association. Those taxis will charge you a reasonable, standard and posted rate. But, you have to wait for it to arrive, sometimes five minutes, sometimes 20 or more minutes. You must stand in the cold or heat on the middle island of the service road. (Hell, even the CTA puts outdoor heaters on its L stations. No such comfort at O’Hare for suburbanites.) Getting to the middle island risks getting whacked by the city-preferred cabs zipping along the inner service road.

Warnings are posted in the airport lobby and the O’Hare website telling unsuspecting riders not to accept rides from unauthorized drivers. Well and good. But here’s the danger:

In this digital life, travelers now go to their cell phone to pre-arrange their rides. If they don’t go to the app of an authorized company and instead search on their browsers for airport transportation, a long list of providers will pop up, not all of them authorized. It’s the best place to get scammed.

Here’s a hint that you’re being taken for a ride: If you’re told your driver will pick you up on the third, outer ring, don’t take the ride. Pre-arranged rides only arrive at one of the designated gates on the second ring; the illegal drivers risk getting ticketed if they drive on the inner roads.

This arrangement is nuts and seemingly inexplicable. I often use Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C. and no such problem exists. That’s because you don’t have to pre-arrange a ride to the suburbs. Taxis are waiting there, to take you to wherever you want, be it D.C. or its Maryland or Virginia suburbs. No prearrangement required. No extra fare charged for a suburban ride.

Why does Chicago have such a cockamamie and unfair system? I can only guess. And my best guess goes back to the days when one company monopolized the city’s taxi-cab fleet. A politically connected company, of course. A company whose monopoly fares were set by a politically compliant City Council run by His Highness, Mayor Daley I.

Suburban cabs had to be kept out of Chicago at all costs to protect the insiders. That meant giving Chicago cabs preferential treatment at O’Hare and preventing any suburban cabs from taking riders into the city.

Intentionally turning its suburban customers into second-class citizens is just one of the many reasons that O’Hare, despite its advantageous location in the center of the continent, is one of the most despised airports in America. It’s why in terms of passenger satisfaction, it is surpassed by some third-world airport.

The outrageous taxi, limo and shared-ride set-up at O’Hare is one more demonstration of how the Chicago Way makes living in Chicago and Illinois a test of one’s soul. All the aldermen going to prison gets all the attention. But O’Hare tops them all when it comes to how greed, power and corruption infects us all. 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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