Chicago Taxi Industry Hit Hard Amid Pandemic, Ride Share Trip Increases

Less than 900 taxis in Chicago are considered to be "active," according to city data

NBC Universal, Inc.

With the announcement of Chicago’s popular summer events coming back this year, some industries severely affected by the pandemic are starting to see hope in 2021.

But that’s not the case for Chicago’s taxi industry, which was taking a hit long before COVID-19 arrived.

Rideshare companies, like Uber and Lyft, greatly decreased the value of taxi medallions -- licenses that allow the operation of taxis in the city.

Jose Garcia of Cicero purchased a medallion for $25,000 several years ago. Now, he said it’s worth just $12,000.

Garcia, who lost 85% of his business when the pandemic hit, said he’s happy if he makes $1,000 in a week now.

Meanwhile, his insurance costs him more than $800 a month, he said.

“I like driving a cab. I represent the city of Chicago when the tourists come,” said Garcia. “At this point, I don’t know what to do.”

According to the city’s data portal, just more than 800 medallions are listed as “active.” Garcia says the actual number of taxis on the streets is far less than that.

Furquan Mohammed, an attorney at MST Law who represents taxi drivers, said taxi drivers ask him about bankruptcy every week.

“A lot of these folks took out business loans, essentially mortgages, on their medallions. The payments haven’t stopped with the pandemic,” said Mohammed. “I never could have imagined a drop like this over a one-year time period.”

After NBC 5 reached out, the city of Chicago responded via email, saying it reduced medallion license fees by 50% during the pandemic, deferred license renewal dates and helped drivers connect with financial resources.

City officials also say the process to study the industry has been initiated to help with future policy decisions.

The city also offered refunds to taxi drivers for personal protective equipment used during the pandemic.

While big events, like Chicago’s Auto Show, were recently announced to be coming back, Mohammed believes the damage could be irreversible to the heavily regulated taxi industry.

“The pandemic really fast forwarded the decline of the taxi industry,” said Mohammed. I think one day we’ll look back and say, we don’t know what we really had until we [lost] it.”

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