A Brief NY Field Guide: Cabs

I am writing a series of posts about NY for people who are coming into town for BlogHer this August. My friend Jett suggested the idea and I ran with it. Today we’re going to talk about cabs.

You might take a cab while you’re in NY. That’s great! Cabs are a wonderful thing. There are, of course, some things you should know. All NY taxis are licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. They are all the same yellow color. They have indicator lights on the roof. We will come back to those lights, they are important.

But first, how do you hail a cab? This is fairly simple. You stand on the curb and raise an arm. That’s it. You don’t have to shout, whistle or wave. In fact, please don’t do any of those things. Here, for example, is Cameron Diaz hailing a cab:

That’s it. Now, when you go to hail a cab you may notice other people also trying to get a cab. Do not stand a foot or two in front of them and try to hail a cab. That’s rude. They have staked a claim. Walk at least half a block away, a full block is preferable, before trying.

Once you have decided to hail a cab, commit to it. Don’t decide after two minutes of waiting, that maybe another block will be better. Just wait it out. You’ll waste far more time walking to another block and trying than you will simply waiting.

Do note that cabs have shifts and thus shift changes. If you try and hail a cab around 4pm, 12am or 8am you might have a greater wait. This is where those lights on the top of a cab come in.

There is a number in the center and two smaller bits of text to either side. The number in the center is the cab’s medallion number. The lights to either side either each say “off duty” or one says “off” and the other “duty.” When the cab is full none of those lights will be on. If a cab has a passenger it will not stop to pick you up. Some towns that is different, but that’s the way we do it in NY. If the center medallion number is lit then the cab is free, and will, hopefully, stop and pick you up. If the center light is off and the Off Duty lights are on then the cab is off duty and will not pick you up. Generally.

See, sometimes an off duty cab will pull over for you. When this happens do not get in the cab. The cab driver will ask you where you’re going. Tell them. They will then decide if they want to take you there. Because they are off duty they are under no obligation to take a fare. They’re off work and need to get that car back to the garage and give it to another driver who is already waiting for them. They also want to go home. So the mere act of stopping is to do you a favor. Treat it as a favor. If they say they can’t take you (often because you are going too far past where they need to go or in an utterly different direction) do not get mad, curse or insist that they take you somewhere. Thank them. They stopped to try and do you a favor. Thank them and let them drive away. Then resume trying to hail a cab.

So, let us say you have hailed a cab and it stopped and is on duty and empty. Get in the cab, quickly, and close the door. Then tell the nice cab driver where you want to go. Street then avenue. “68th and 7th” or “71st and Broadway” or whatever. This is important because we do have streets with low numbers that can be the same as avenue numbers. 4th and 7th is very different than 7th and 4th. And yes saying 7th avenue and 4th street should work, but it is much simpler to always phrase destinations in terms of street then avenue. It cuts down on confusion and mistakes.

Try to always give a cab driver a street and avenue combination. Giving them a building number is never as effective as an intersection street. If you need to go to, say, 5240 Broadway you can ask your destination what the cross street is (in this case, oddly since I chose that address at random, it is directly between 114th and 115th streets, so either would work.). Call ahead and plan your trip. Know where you are going. That’s general good advice no matter where in the world you go.

So you’re in a cab, you’ve told them where to go and you’re off! Now what? No, this isn’t over yet. First of all, please be aware that all NY cabs now have little TV screens in the back. You can watch these if you want. They make me car sick. After a start-up splash (they turn on when the driver turns the meter on) there will be, somewhere on the touch screen, an off button. Feel free to use it.

The meter must be turned on. If a cab leaves the curb and by about a 30 second mark the driver has not turned on the meter, tell him. It will look like some variation on this:

And it is located in the center of the dashboard, or just on top of it. If the cab driver says he doesn’t need to turn on the meter or gives you any sort of excuse for not turning it on, tell him that “Here is fine,” and get out of the cab. Scams happen. Rarely, but they do happen. You don’t want to get to your destination and have the driver make up some random amount of money you owe them. No. So make sure the meter is on.

And speaking of the meter, how much will this ride cost you? Well, as of this writing, the current fare is as follows:

$2.50 to start. It costs $2.50 to turn the meter on and leave the curb. Then it is $0.40 per additional unit. What’s a unit? Well from the TLC page itself:

• one-fifth of a mile, when the taxicab is traveling at 6 miles an hour or more; or
• 60 seconds when not in motion or traveling at less than 12 miles per hour.
• The taximeter shall combine fractional measures of distance and time in accruing a unit of fare. Any combination of distance or time shall be computed by the taximeter in accordance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology Handbook 44.
• The fare shall include pre-assessment of the unit currently being accrued; the amount due may therefore include a full unit charge for a final, fractional unit.
• Night surcharge of $.50 after 8:00 PM & before 6:00 AM
• Peak hour Weekday Surcharge of $1.00 Monday – Friday after 4:00 PM & before 8:00 PM
• New York State Tax Surcharge of $.50 per ride

Note that cabs are required to take credit cards these days but that can screw the driver so please use cash if you can. See if you pay by credit card they lose money to the CC processing fee and also have to wait 30 days to get the money. And that can throw them off in terms of their in/out. I’m not saying don’t use credit cards – pay however you need to – just advising that if you CAN pay cash, please do. Also tip. Please don’t forget to tip. A dollar every five dollars of fare is a good tip if you can.

You need to remember that driving a cab is not a great money making scheme for the driver. They are in a car working for someone. Every night they have to pay a few hundred bucks (minimum) to the garage to take the car out. They also pay for gas and any work done on the cab while they were out in it. Also if you litter in a cab the driver can be fined $250 by the TLC should a TLC agent stop the cab and check. And they do. It’s horrible the way cab drivers are treated in this town. So be nice to them, thank them for the ride, and tip.

Enjoy your cab ride! Most cab rides are done at perfectly pleasant speeds and are quite comfortable. There is A/C and if it is not on but you want it on, ask the driver. You can also ask that they turn off their music, or turn it down, if it bothers you too much. Remember, stay polite and patient and so will everyone else involved.

Tomorrow – answers to the questions you’ve left over the last week, and today, so be sure to come back.

Other posts in the A Brief NY Field Guide series: General Stuff | Walking | Subways | The rest

You can also find information , theoretically, about things to do in New York City at UpTake, a site that speciifcally asked me to link to them, and sorta-bribed me to do so. They might even be useful! Who knows!

By Adam P. Knave

Adam P. Knave wrote this, but you knew that, since this is his site. That's kinda how it works.

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