The airport hustle: Unauthorized drivers looking to take passengers for a ride

CHICAGO — The City of Chicago’s attempts to crack down on people who illegally offer rides at Chicago’s airports hasn’t stopped a steady stream of solicitors.

“These people are hostages in that car unless they pay what they’re told to pay,” said airport greeter Mark Glass.

Glass has made it his mission to identify and report these unauthorized taxis.  Glass says some of the drivers have threatened him for exposing the airport hustle.

WGN Investigates went undercover to see how often we would be solicited.

Four drivers in 45 minutes said they were “taxis” or rideshare services “like Uber and Lyft.” They insisted their state issued “livery” license plates or City of Chicago chauffer’s license allow them to solicit rides at the O’Hare and Midway airports.

However, city ordinance clearly states only pre-arranged rides are permissible at Chicago’s airports.

“They’re trying to step ahead of the line and not follow any of the rules and in doing so they’re also putting the public at risk,” said Chicago Business and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno.

City officials said people are putting themselves in danger by using unlicensed operators because many drivers don’t submit to background checks and their vehicles are not inspected.

There’s also an issue of price gouging.  One driver told WGN Investigates a ride from O’Hare to Naperville would cost $89-$100.  A suburban taxi service that’s authorized to offer pre-arranged airport rides charges $50 for that same ride.  City officials have heard complaints about passengers being told one fare at the airport only to be told they must pay a higher amount upon arrival at their destination.

Competitions between drivers has led to bloodshed. Police said two drivers hustling rides got into a fight over a fare outside O’Hare airport’s international terminal in 2018.  One guy pulled a knife and stabbed the other as he tried to defend himself with a traffic cone.

Records reveal police issued 75 citations for unlawful solicitation of rides at O’Hare airport last year.  Ten citations were issued at Midway.  Despite two sting operations carried out by the city this year the rogue drivers continue to operate.  The city encourages anyone who feels they may have been scammed by one of these drivers to report them via 311.

One driver who offered WGN Investigates what he described as a “black car service” said City Hall is to blame for the pressure they feel to find fares.  An explosion of ride share drivers and the devaluing of taxi medallions has ruined business, according to Mohammad Mazouni.

“It’s our living,” Mazouni said.  “I’ve been in this business 20 years.  What am I supposed to do?   This is only thing I know!”

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