It seems simple, and with a little practice, it is. Depending on where you’re going and how well you know the area this could be VERY simple. However, regardless of the situation you are in, with this guide you will save a few dollars, get there a bit quicker and not be tricked into handing someone an outrageous cab fare.
The first step to getting a cab is hailing it. Walk to the nearest corner. If you are near a major avenue, walk towards it rather then a smaller intersection; you will undoubtedly have better luck. On the top of each cab you will notice a small box with a set of three lights. The center light is a three-letter one-number combination that represents that cabs ID. On both sides of that are smaller lights that say “off duty”. When someone is in the cab, the entire box on top will be dark. When the cab is empty and accepting business, the center light (the cab’s ID) is lit. When the cab is off duty and heading back to base/home, all three lights are lit. When you are trying to hail a cab you are looking for only the center light to be lit. Face traffic, raise your hand and wait for the next driver to come up. Occasionally when you are in the process of doing this a Lincoln Town Car will come up and offer you a ride. Unless your confident in where you’re going, getting into an unauthorized cab, negotiating your fare and breaking the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) rules, don’t get in this “Gypsy” cab. You have no rights as a rider in a “Gypsy” cab, and they very well can screw you on a fare at the end of your journey.
Once a cab pulls up next to you, open the door and hop in. After this, tell the cabbie where you want to go. It is always easier to explain where you are going if you know what street you are going to and what it is between or on the corner of, rather then an actual address. If you get in a cab and tell them “1627 Broadway in Manhattan”, unless they have a GPS you are most likely screwed. No one knows where that is, except a few super math nerds who know the system of address on the avenues (see link here for the algorithm and prepare to laugh hysterically: http://www.ny.com/locator/algorithm.html). If your driver knows this system, or claims to, they are either Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting or they are trying to rip you off. That being said, know where you are going. Acceptable destinations include: “Broadway between 50th and 51st Streets in Manhattan” or “York Street between Bridge and Gold Streets in Brooklyn” or “the corner of Broadway and 57th”.
Most of the time, this will be your final “required” interaction before having to pay. On occasion, cabbies may ask you how you want to get to your final destination or what route would you like to take. When I first moved to NY this is where most of my confusion set it. I didn’t know the answer to either question, but at the same time I didn’t want the cabbie to know that for fear of them ripping me off. There are three easy ways to answer this question effectively:
- Say, “It doesn’t matter, take which route you think is fastest”. The potential consequence is that they take an indirect or knowingly slow route to your final destination, screwing you out of a few dollars. Contrary to primary belief outside of New York, most cab drivers are honest and friendly so I would not be too worried about this happening. I would most recommend this method, unless you know anything about the route you should be taking and/or can determine if they are driving you out of your way.
- Say, “what route do you think is fastest?” This makes you look like you know what you are doing to a certain degree, and instills a bit of trust in the driver. The possible consequences of this include the driver saying a completely out of the way route and having you confirm it (now you’re REALLY being taken advantage of) or them suggesting a fast route, having you confirm it, and you get to go along your merry way. I only suggest doing this if you have an idea or concept of how to get where you are going.
- Tell them what way you want to go. This is only a good idea if you know where you are going, and can defend that position. If you say, “take the midtown tunnel” and the driver shoots back “well there was a ton of traffic earlier and it’s a fare, how about the Williamsburg Bridge?” you need to know what to say to that. Only choose this method if you know what you are doing.
After you have confirmed your destination, you can sit back and relax. Roll down the window; turn on the AC with the little button in the center down by your feet. If you want, attempt to strike up a conversation with your driver. Not every driver wants to talk, but some REALLY do and some have some pretty incredible stories. It’s important to note that you have certain rights as a rider. You can view those here.
At the end of the journey, you will have to pay (yes, pay). You have a couple different options, all of which will be presented on the little screen in the middle of the divider between you and the taxi driver. You have two options: cash or credit card. Regardless of what the driver says, no matter how little your fare is you can pay with a credit card, it’s in the bill of rights (the taxi one above, not the actual Bill of Rights…somehow the fore fathers of our country didn’t see credit card payments for cabs being a problem, but trust me, sometimes, it is). If you want to pay via credit card, hit that button. You will then be presented with a screen where you can add in your tip. There is usually an option for 15% 20% or 25% tip. Unless your driver was an asshole, tip 20 or 25%. Drivers do not bring home a ton of that cash, and they work hard for their money – reward them for driving your lazy butt around town.
After you have paid, always ask for a receipt. This receipt is your way to know what cab you were in for this journey. If you left something in the cab by accident need to file a complaint, or want to offer a compliment, you will need to know what cab you were in. The receipt has this listed at the top. It’s always easiest to just get in the habit of keeping the receipt then not.
Last but not least, always be sure to get out using the curbside door. It is against the TLC rules to exit on street side, and you may be hit. (With that said, keep an eye out for cyclists coming up on the curbside as well.) After getting out, thank the cabbie and go on your merry way.