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How Bad Is Chicago's Cab Market? Plunging Taxi Medallion Prices Tell The Tale

CBS (CHICAGO) – Chicago taxi medallions, the licenses that cab drivers need to legally operate, sold for more than $350,000 in 2012.

But these days, the medallion market has crashed, the result of increased competition from rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

"We don't have a future anymore," says Ellias Lopera, 54, a veteran Chicago cab driver. "No matter how many hours you work a day you don't make money. You just pay the bills."

Lopera placed a big bet on his future when he paid $40,000 in 1994 for his first medallion. Six years later, he paid $70,000 for a second.

"I thought it was going to be my retirement," he says.

Lopera's bets looked like winners when medallions were selling for a top price of $385,000 in 2012. But the rise of rideshare companies have decimated that market. Buyers are hard to find, even though medallion prices have fallen to a low of around $50,000 this year.

To give an idea of how far the market has crashed, consider this: In 2012, 530 medallions traded hands. Last year, that number fell to 31, up from 14 in 2015, according to city records.

Also falling is the money City Hall makes off those trades.

In 2012, the city collected more than $9 million in taxes on medallion transfers. Last year, it raked in just $85,000.

The city taxes Uber and Lyft, but Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) says the companies could pay more.

"Maybe we need to go up to a dollar per ride for Uber and Lyft, and that will definitely plug the hole without having to go the taxpayers," he says.

Lopera's plan had been to sell his medallions when he was done driving and live off the profits. He doesn't believe that's an option anymore.

A city of Chicago spokesperson says City Hall has helped cab drivers by approving a fare increase in 2016 and lowering the medallion transfer tax so the fee isn't "an obstacle to trading."

The spokesperson notes "medallion prices are market-driven and not set by the city."

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