The Famous Yellow Cab
Few things characterize New York City like a yellow NYC taxi cab.
Many tourists use taxis as their primary or only form of transportation when visiting New York. This is not necessary because the New York City subway system is excellent and many tourists have navigated the subways successfully. Even so, visitors often prefer taking cabs over dealing with the crowds and extra work that the subway requires.
Tips for Hailing a Taxi Cab
In New York City, your best bet for getting around is probably to use the city’s subway system, bus system or any of its other public transportation methods.
That said, in the rare circumstance where you will actually want to take a taxi (it’s late at night, you’ve got a lot of luggage or you’re really far from a subway station), you’ll need to know how to call them.
Unlike most other cities, it’s difficult to prearrange a taxi pickup in New York City. Your best bet is to “hail” one off the streets using your hands to catch their attention.
To tell whether a cab is available or not, take a look at its roof lights. On the top of yellow cabs there are always three lights: a light with a medallion number and two “off-duty” lights, on either side of that number.
If the “off-duty” lights are lit up, the cab is off-duty. If only the medallion number is lit up, the cab is free for service and if nothing is lit up, the cab already has a fare.
How to Hail a Cab
To hail a cab, walk a safe distance into the street, make eye contact with the cab driver and extend your hand.
You do not need to whistle, show some leg, wave frantically or perform any other ridiculous shenanigan that mainstream television would lead you to believe.
If the area that you are trying to pick up a taxi in is especially crowded, walk a couple of blocks to a less congested area and try to get a cab there. This will usually be faster than waiting your turn in a crowded intersection.
Taxis are easier to catch on large avenues than small side streets. If the light at the top of taxi is lit, then the taxi is empty. If it’s off, the taxi is occupied and therefore not available.
Once you have successfully hailed a cab, just hop in and tell the driver where you want to go.
This is best communicated by giving the driver an intersection (example: Sixth Avenue and 34th Street) rather than a hotel name or street address. Giving the name of a well-known landmark (like the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center) works well too.
Overall, taxi drivers seem reasonably skilled at getting around the city and generally try their hardest to get you to your destination fast.
Cons of the NYC Taxi
Taxis aren’t always the best way to travel in New York City. Some notable disadvantages include the following:
- Expensive – Taxis are often more expensive than public transportation. See how much it costs to use the subways.
- Not Necessarily Fast – Traffic can be horrible in Manhattan so taking a taxi isn’t always as fast as one might think.
- Rough Ride – NYC taxis are known for honking, jerking, and otherwise aggressive driving. Don’t expect a smooth ride and watch out for motion sickness.
- Low Vacancy – Even though the city is full of taxis, certain times are more challenging than others for catching one because of the volume of people looking for cabs. For example, it can be particularly difficult when it’s raining (when you need it the most).
Pros of Taking a Taxi
So Why Take a Taxi? New York City taxis do have their place. Taxis can be good for the following situations:
- Lots of Luggage – The subways require a lot of stair climbing and this can be cumbersome when hauling big bags. See below for more information on taxi fares to and from the airports.
- Late Nights – The subway system runs 24 hours/day but some stations and train lines can have very sparse crowds in the middle of the night. You may feel safer taking a taxi at these times.
- Poor Subway Access – Subways are quite extensive, but even so, there may be times when you are going to a place without a direct subway route. Rather than changing trains multiple times and/or doing a lot of walking, you may decide it’s easier to hop in a cab.
New York City Taxi Fare and Payment Information
There is a standard metered fare for all travel within New York City. The fare accrues during the ride and is computed by a taximeter located inside each taxi.
Here are a few criteria for how the fare is calculated:
- $2.50 upon entering the vehicle
- $.50 for each 1/5 of a mile when the taxi is moving and $.50 for each 60 seconds when the taxi is not in motion, i.e. sitting in traffic
New York taxis accept cash and credit/debit cards. Although they used to be notoriously cash-only, taxis are now outfitted with machines that accept credit and debit cards. The tip can be added to the card as well. The card machines are located in the rear part of the cab where the passengers sit.
As for tipping, 15-20% is the standard tip for NYC taxi drivers.
Learn more about NYC taxi fares.
NYC taxis serve all three New York City airports.
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) – There is a flat fare for trips between JFK and Manhattan. It is $52 plus tolls.
- LaGuardia International Airport (LGA) – The regular metered fair applies to trips to and from LaGuardia.
- Newark International Airport (EWR) – The fare for trips to and from Newark is the regular metered rate of fare, plus a $17.50 surcharge, plus tolls.
There is more than one way to get to and from the airport. Learn more about how to get from the airport to Manhattan, including public transportation options.