The Battle For Chicago: Limo Laws Leave Operators Wondering

Posted on November 10, 2011
George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine says issues between city and suburban operators arise not because of the way the laws are written but because some operators cheat to get around the laws.

George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine says issues between city and suburban operators arise not because of the way the laws are written but because some operators cheat to get around the laws.

CHICAGO — Two identical Town Cars drive down Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Both have just picked up clients from a Chicago restaurant and are en route to a Chicago theatre for an evening show. One car has a city license plate and a chauffeur with a City of Chicago chauffeur license, or “hard card”, both of which cost the operator a large chunk of change, not to mention a lengthy and stringent application process. These credentials allow the operator to do business within city limits.

The other car does not have city plates or a hard card chauffeur, did not shell out extra cash or go through extra training and a stringent application process, yet it’s still operating within the city and it’s doing it legally.

According to the law, the second car is fine without the Chicago permits because the trip originated in the suburbs, simple as that. It may not seem fair on the surface — especially from a city operator’s perspective — but a closer look shows that it all balances out. In fact, suburban operators may be the ones getting the short end of the stick.

If a limo operator wants to do business in Chicago and go point-to-point within the city, he needs a city license plate. To get one, the business has to be registered inside the city of Chicago with proof that the owner pays the utilities at whatever addresses is registered. The company owner or owners must go through background checks and sign an annual affidavit stating that they don’t owe any money to the city of Chicago. Even parking tickets could pose potential problems. The plate also costs about $500 extra on top of the regular state livery plate.

For a chauffeur to operate a city-plated car, he needs to have a special chauffeur’s license from the city called a hard card, which requires a background check, drug test, a physical, an in-person or online class that proves they have knowledge of the city, its rules, and its vanity addresses, among many other things.

Once a limo has city plates and the chauffeur has a hard card, the operator is good to go for business within the city. He can do a charter that goes bar hopping within the city; he can go back and forth between O’Hare and Midway airports; but most importantly, he can pick up clients from the city and bring them anywhere else in the city.

“City and suburban companies can go to O’Hare to pick up clients,” said George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine. “Suburban companies can also bring their clients to O’Hare as long as they picked them up from the suburbs. But only Chicago companies with the right city permits and licenses can legally go to the airports from downtown, because O’Hare and Midway are considered part of Chicago. So the city companies have a huge piece of business that suburban companies cannot do. It’s a very big piece of business and it’s enforced by the police. If you don’t have a hard card and are sitting in a city-plated car at the airport, you can get arrested just for being in that car without the proper license.”

What some city operators have a beef with, however, is the ability for suburban operators to do inter-urban trips without having the city licenses so long as their pickup originated in the suburbs. “I have to pay a lot more money to get the licensing that allows me to go point-to-point within the city of Chicago, and here are suburban companies that are taking clients point-to-point in the city and just because they started in the suburbs, they don’t have to pay for the permits, and that doesn’t seem right to me,” said Arthur Rento of Pontarelli Worldwide Ground Transportation.

Jacobs doesn’t believe this is a problem. “It’s legal for operators to pick up from the suburbs and go downtown, and it’s also legal for them to pick their clients up from downtown at the end of the night and take them back to the suburbs, and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” he said. “It’s just not realistic to expect a suburban client to hire a city company to drive 50 miles to get them and bring them to downtown, and then bring them back home at the end of the night.”

Issues arise when people cheat, Jacobs said. “The grey area occurs when a limo company picks up somebody in a hotel downtown and takes them barhopping and doesn’t have a city-plated car or hard card chauffeur,” he said. “The companies that have the hard cards and city plates pay a lot of money for the privilege of doing that. But there are people who try and cheat and pick up clients from the airport or from downtown, then drive the long way through a suburb, and then back into the city.”

Something Jacobs does have a problem with, however, is that suburban operators are being taxed by the city to pay for the McCormick Place convention center, but are not allowed to bring clients there from the airport. “The McCormick Place Expansion Authority taxes every limo company that arrives at O’Hare $4. If a suburban company picks up a client from O’Hare and takes them back to a suburb, they still have to pay the $4 tax. They’re paying to build a place that they aren’t even allowed to go to. You’ve got the city of Chicago saying, ‘you can’t go downtown from O’Hare without a city license, but we’re still going to tax you.’”

The Illinois Limousine Association fought the city over this issue 15 years ago and lost. The tax doubled from $2 to $4 last year and Jacobs suggested the ILA try to fight it again, but the funds weren’t there. “So it’s illegal for suburban operators to go downtown but they’re still being taxed to pay for something they can’t even use or visit? I think it’s criminal,” Jacobs said.

If you are an Illinois or Chicago operator and would like to learn more about this issue, other regulatory issues, or support the legal fund to help fight for fairer laws, please sign up at

—    Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor

Related Topics: airport rules, Chicago operators, George Jacobs, limousine regulations, Windy City Limousine

Comments ( 1 )
  • Adam

     | about 5 years ago

    Although, We need to educate the customers as well to verify with their booked <a href="">Chicago Limo company</a> either they have valid licence or not.

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