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Grabbing a cab

Unlike some other big cities, Chicago is well-served by taxis. City officials do a good job of balancing the demands of vehicle quantity and quality. Operators can put just about as many cars on the streets as the market will bear, but the cars must be well maintained and the drivers are subject to rigorous training and strict standards.

Here's what you should know before getting into a taxi:

Where to find one

Cabs are plentiful in heavily trafficked areas: O'Hare and Midway Airports, train stations, the Loop, Magnificent Mile, River North, Rush and Division, and most of Lincoln Park and Lake View. Just stand along the curb, wave your arm with great purpose - and presto - a cab probably will appear. If you don't spot one, try a hotel, restaurant, office high-rise or tourist attraction. Most of them have taxi stands out front. In fact, there are many taxi stands in many neighborhoods which are designated with signs. Hospitals are also a good bet and often have telephones at the reception desk which directly dial a cab when you pick up the receiver. If you are off the beaten path, go to the nearest major intersection.

Is the cab legit?

Chicago's cab companies range from one-car operations to a company owning 2,000 vehicles. So how do you know whether it's a legit cab -- one that follows city safety and quality regulations? When you get in, look for the driver's chauffeur license picture ID and the vehicle license posted on the passenger side. The taxi's license number should also be on the information card behind the driver's seat, and it should also have a Braille card. Get out of any cab that does not have these IDs. All city-licensed cabs have a silver medallion on the hood. Suburban cabs, which have different fare structures and driver requirements, usually have a five-digit cab number instead of a maximum of four for city vehicles. They can take city passengers to the suburbs only on prearranged trips.

Fare structure

Here's the city's fare structure: $1.60 when the driver activates the meter. Each additional passenger is 50 cents, except for children under 12 and seniors over 65. Each additional mile is $1.40. Every 45 seconds of waiting time in traffic is 20 cents. You pay all tolls.

Do a little preparation before you embark. Carry a good map, know where you are, know where you want to go, and know the major streets you will cross to get there. Tell this to the driver, then check your map periodically to confirm that you're taking an appropriate route. Keep in kind the driver may know about construction and other traffic problems. For trips of more than 5 miles the driver may agree to a flat rate. Make the agreement before you embark. The meter should run, regardless. Here are ballpark figures from the airports, depending on traffic: O'Hare to downtown: $26-$30; Midway to downtown: $17-$22. For a 3-mile ride from downtown to the United Center, figure on $6-$8.

For rides form the airports and McCormick Place, try sharing a cab under the Shared Ride Program. Look for the "starter" who can answer your questions. Fare share from O'Hare to McCormick Place is $15 per person; from Midway to McCormick Place is $10 per person; from O'Hare to Midway is $25 per person; and from McCormick Place to the Loop is $5 per person.

Where are you going?

Chicago is a big city and every cabbie might not know every single street on the map. If a driver doesn't know the way, you can give him or her the directions, get another cab or, if you don't know how to get there, either, let the driver consult a map. Just be sure the meter is turned off.

Refusal of service

Cabs cannot refuse service based on your race, your sexual orientation, where you want to go in the city limits or where you want to be picked up from. But they can pass you by if the cab light is on, indicating they have another fare. And they don't have to put up with you if you're belligerent, abusive or too wasted to know who you are, never mind where you're going.

Got a complaint?

If you have a gripe, you can file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Services by calling 312-744-9400, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You must have the cab number to file and the date, time and location of the incident. It also helps to have the company name and the driver's name. The process can take up to a month. You can testify in person or by phone. If found guilty, cab drivers may be fined, have their licenses suspended or, in serious cases, revoked. If you have been overcharged, you can receive a refund.

Some cab companies

There are approximately 2,200 cab companies in Chicago. Here are a few of the majors: American United Cab: 773-248-7600, Checker Taxi: 312-243-2537, Flash Cab: 773-878-8500, Yellow Cab: 312-829-4222.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun