The life of a cab driver

How the new city regulations affect cabbies.

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  • Photograph: Sally Ryan

    Durran Liban

  • Photograph: Sally Ryan

    Durran Liban

  • Photograph: Sally Ryan

    Durran Liban

  • Photograph: Sally Ryan

    Durran Liban at Mogadishu Restaurant

Photograph: Sally Ryan

Durran Liban

Waking at 3:30am on a Wednesday, Durran Liban, 39, quietly leaves his West Rogers Park apartment so as not to disturb his wife and five children. By 4am, he’s heading south on Lake Shore Drive in his taxi, a maroon Ford Escape leased from Chicago Carriage Cab. After nearly 30 minutes of driving the near-empty streets, he finally spots his first fare: a middle-aged businessman leaving the Wyndham Hotel in Streeterville and heading to O’Hare.


“Where are you from?” the passenger asks.


“Somalia,” Liban replies.


“Oh,” the man responds before opening his Wall Street Journal.


Returning downtown by 6:30am, Liban picks up another businessman at Union Station for a short trip to an office building on Wacker Drive. He drives around the Loop for a half hour with no success before heading to Lincoln Park, where he is hailed by a young woman going to work downtown.


Before the recession, Liban could count on a steady stream of customers during the morning, midday and evening rushes. But now it might take a half hour to get a morning fare. Lunchtime business is markedly slow. And these days, he can’t work extra hours to make up for it.


Beginning Sunday 1, new city regulations will limit taxi drivers to no more than 12 continuous hours behind the wheel, part of a larger plan that aims to revoke licenses immediately upon infractions deemed “significant to public safety,” including DUIs, and to be stricter with annual license renewals.


In preparation for the new regulations, Liban’s cab company began limiting drivers to 12-hour shifts in May. Now, he drives six days a week, from 4am–4pm, before turning his cab back to the company. Liban used to lease his cab the whole day, so he could drive when he chose. Typically, he would start at 5am and work the morning rush, then knock off by 8:30am to take his children to school. He’d start working again at 10am through the lunch rush, then take a break by 2pm to pick up his kids. He’d be back on duty by 5pm to work the evening rush, and usually return home no later than 10pm.


Despite being on the road 14–16 hours each day, “I never was tired because I took breaks,” Liban says. “I was able to work during the busiest times to make the best fares.”


The city argues the new regulations will keep passengers safer. “The new rules are about safety for the public and the drivers themselves,” says Rosemary Krimbel, Chicago’s commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, the agency that regulates the nearly 7,000 licensed cabs in the city.


With recent reports of cab drivers falling asleep at the wheel everywhere from Arizona to North Carolina, and local tragedies like when a taxi crashed into and killed a pedestrian on a Streeterville sidewalk a year ago (drowsy driving was not listed as a factor, but the cabbie had received nearly 30 traffic tickets in 22 years), it’s certainly prudent for the city to attempt to improve safety on the road. But what does it mean for cabbies like Liban?


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