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Taxi Rides Soar as Much as 40 Percent During 'Chiberia' Weather

By Erica Demarest | January 8, 2014 7:15am
 Local cab companies said they've seen rush-hour "upticks" from folks trying to avoid CTA and Metra woes.
Local cab companies said they've seen rush-hour "upticks" from folks trying to avoid CTA and Metra woes.
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NEAR NORTH SIDE — Not even 40-degree-below-zero wind chills can keep a good taxi driver down.

"The polar bear stayed inside, but [taxi drivers] are a pretty resilient bunch. They bundled up and were out there helping people," said Joe Kantor, marketing manager for Hailo, a smartphone app that allows passengers to track and hail cabs.

Kantor was referencing Anana, the Lincoln Park Zoo polar bear who stayed inside Monday to avoid 'Chiberia' temperatures.

As a polar vortex gripped the city this week — bringing with it sub-zero temperatures, CTA woes and dangerous driving conditions — many Chicagoans tried to stay indoors. Those who couldn't turned to taxis.

"Our call volume was up 40 percent," said Comey Bilamjian, president of City Service Taxi Association, which operates 350 cars in Chicago.

The calls started rolling in Sunday, he said, as snow fell and temperatures began to drop. The demand is still high, as many residents find themselves "trapped" in unplowed side streets and alleys.

Uber Chicago, which offers car and ride-sharing services, saw a "more than 25 percent" increase during morning and afternoon rush hour Monday, according to general manager Andrew Macdonald.

"Folks have had less transit options and turned to Uber," Macdonald said. "People don't want to get stranded Downtown."

Kantor said that while Hailo can't provide exact numbers, it has seen an increase in volume — not to mention an "uptick" in cab drivers willing to log in to the app and offer rides.

"People rely on [taxi drivers] and expect them to be out," Kantor said. "It's almost a public service. People get frustrated if it's not there."

Plus, offering reliable rides during a storm can be lucrative, Bilamjian said. 

"Some drivers chose not to work — either because it was hard to get over here or they were stuck," he said. "Because of that, the ones that are out there, they've gotten a lot of business."

But more business has occasionally meant longer wait times.

"55 minute wait for Uber taxi? I'll take my chances and walk to the train! #polarvortex #ChiBeria," one man wrote on Twitter.

"After 12 failed attempts at getting an @Uber_CHI uberX or cab, I guess it's time to suck it up & take the train to work. Damn you, Chiberia!" another commuter wrote.

Macdonald said that's to be expected.

"At times it can be difficult, because everyone is trying to get [a car] at once," he said. "We've done our best to get more drivers out on the road. The increased demand is a good incentive."