Open data has a number of uses: transparency, economic development, galvanizing technology, and also consumer protection. A recent experience crystalized this fact. Super Bowl 49 was a messy day in Chicago. By the time the game ended, 16″ of snow had accumulated on the ground, and would still fall throughout the night. A hard, gusty wind sandblasted snow against your face. Needless to say, it was unpleasant to be outside.
The blizzard and conclusion of the game created a high demand for cabs and rideshares were high. Uber surcharge was at least 2.5x at the time and was treacherous for the cabs who decided to venture out. But, while demand is high, it’s not the opportunity to gouge customers. Rideshare programs are allowed to surcharge, but otherwise, provide their services at a lower cost. Taxi cabs, however, provide their services at a fixed cost at all times with clear rules displayed to riders and are allowed to pick up passengers from the sidewalks around the city. Violating this can be reported through the city’s 311 system.
While trying to get a cab, the driver pulled over and asked where I was heading. He responded with “$15″–about twice the price I would normally pay for the trip. I declined but attempted to mentally note the medallion number on the cab and started the 1-mile trek home. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the medallion number after 20 minutes in a blizzard, knee-high drifts, and sandblasting snow. I could only vaguely recall the first couple of digits.
I have seen a number of cab drivers conduct activities that were technically prohibited. I’ve ignored most of them, but attempting to garner higher fares during a blizzard was abusing the situation. While I declined the trip (knowing it was illegal), I would hate to see someone else paid twice the legal amount.
The open data portal contains a list of all authorized cab vehicles. While I partly remembered the medallion, I vividly recall the cab being a blue and white Ford Escape. The medallion number, description of the vehicle, and the operating company are all available on the portal. I sorted the medallion numbers, looking at the 159- and 157- numbers, then looked at the vehicle description. Toyota Camry is the most popular cab model in Chicago, so it was easy to spot the blue and white Escape in the list.
Once I had that information, I was able to complete an online 311 form to report the issue. The city kept me informed on the progress, making sure the occasional driver who violates the rules are reprimanded. Open data was used to help that process.