RIVER NORTH — Has your cabdriver been extra friendly lately? Complaints against drivers are down, and competition from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft could have something to do with it.
"We are trying to behave ourselves. We are being more patient," taxi driver Munir Sadruddin said during a recent lunch break in River North. "It's harder to get jobs these days, so we want to keep ours."
Complaints filed via the city's nonemergency 311 phone line through Oct. 9 of this year were down about 18 percent compared with last year, when 10,306 cases were submitted.
This year, the city is getting fewer complaints against cabdrivers for reckless driving (down 20 percent), rejecting credit card payments (down 37.3 percent) and for being rude (down 25 percent).
While taxi drivers interviewed said they are "professionals" who are licensed and best skilled to ferry passengers from one corner of the city to any other, they said competition from ride-sharing companies has forced them to change their habits in the face of possible complaints, which can result in fines or suspensions of licenses.
"We are more stressed out now than ever," said Emran Khan, who has been driving taxis since 1989. "There are lots of cabdrivers who just leave their cars parked. Everyone wants to avoid the complaints."
Advocates for the taxi industry say there hasn't been an organized effort to address the number of complaints.
But according to Mara Georges, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, taxi drivers are forced to operate under rules that ride-sharing companies don't deal with.
"Unfortunately, there is currently an unfair advantage for ride-sharing in Illinois, as companies like Uber and Lyft currently operate without the same kind of consumer protection laws that help ensure the safety of Illinois passengers" in taxis, Georges said. "There’s no real transparent way for the city to track ride-sharing complaints, except on Twitter and online."
An ordinance introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in October suggests that changes are in the works to help taxis deal with ride-sharing competition.
The ordinance proposes setting up a phone app to dispatch cabs anywhere in the city, much like the ones used by Uber and Lyft. It also proposes lowering credit card company fees charged to drivers and setting up a panel to find ways to improve working conditions for cabdrivers.
But even before changes take place, taxi drivers insist they offer the best way of getting around.
"Uber is for moonlighting," Khan said. "Cabdrivers are professionals."
Tanveer Ali discusses why taxi drivers think complaints are down: