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When is a taxi cheaper than an Uber?

Written by
Clayton Guse

Uber's surge rate can be menacing to a Chicagoan who's on-the-go. The "3X" that pops up onto phone screens during peak periods can mean forking out a lot more than your ride is worth. 

Chicago's rates for uberX are the lowest in the country, and they're significantly cheaper than paying for a taxi. But when the surge rates begin to rise, there's a threshold at which a taxi becomes the more affordable option. What exactly is that threshold? Well, we did the math.

At base rate, hailing a taxi costs nearly twice as much as requesting an uberX. Even at 1.5X surge rate, a taxi's going to cost you more. A 15-minute, four-mile ride in an uberX at that surge rate will cost $13.75 (compared to $9.70 at the base rate). Hailing a taxi for the same trip costs $15.45—and that doesn't include the cost of tipping or any extra passengers. The point at which the cost of an Uber exceeds a taxi for that particular trip is at 1.8X surge rate (more like 1.9X if you're tipping the cab driver). 

But don't take 1.8X surge rate as a universal rule for switching to a cab. That really only applies to when you're hailing a cab. If you swipe to the uberTaxi button on your app, you can get a cab at the standard city of Chicago rate, plus a $2 booking fee. Uber will also automatically add 20 percent gratuity for the driver. At that point, the cab won't be the cheaper option until Uber has jacked their surge rate beyond 2.0X. 

The takeaway: uberX is almost always cheaper than a taxi, and you're best off using a 2.0X surge rate as a cutoff for switching between the two. 

With all that in mind, it's pretty easy to see why cab drivers have been protesting the rise of Uber in Chicago.

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