Silence on medallion auction puzzles some

Sale of cab licenses was to raise millions for city coffers

January 20, 2014

(WBEZ/Odette Yousef)
The city opened its month-long auction for Chicago taxi medallions on September 16. More than three months after the bidding period closed, it remains unclear if it sold any.

Taxi industry insiders have their suspicions about why the City of Chicago is holding out on results of a medallion auction held three months ago.

“I believe the medallion auction did not go according to the plans that the city had,” said Charles Goodbar, an attorney who specializes in medallion sales.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hoped to raise at least $18 million for city coffers to close the 2013 budget hole by auctioning fifty medallions.

The city’s department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection set the starting bid for the licenses at an eye-popping $360 thousand apiece—nearly twice what it was when the city last auctioned medallions in 2010. That time around, the winning bids were made public within a month of the auction.

The BACP promised similarly to publicize results of the more recent auction within weeks of the end of the bidding period. But WBEZ received a response on Friday to a Freedom of Information Act request about the bids. The city still appears to be far from publicizing the results of the auction.

“No information or documents may be released until all medallion sales have closed,” the letter states. “Therefore, at this point in time, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection cannot disclose any bid submission documents.”

Goodbar said he has heard almost nothing from the medallion-financing circles about serious loans to any bidders. He believes that the city would have publicized the results of the auction if it had received any viable bids. Meanwhile, Goodbar says the private medallion market has maintained a healthy level of activity.

The industry, said Goodbar, reads this as a sign that interested medallion buyers want as little to do with the city as possible.

“I’m thinking people are reluctant to give the city $18 million, when the city doesn’t listen to the industry’s concerns,” he noted.

Goodbar cited the city’s reluctance to regulate relatively new ride-sharing services in Chicago, such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, despite the pleas of cab owners. Many owners believe those startups are eating into their market share.

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.