There's a lot of public transportation in New York City, and you can take the subway or a bus to most places you want to go. But taxis are a convenient, if more expensive, way to get from place to place in the city. They are an affordable option when you have a group of people moving around together who can split the fare. You also don't have to wait for the subway or bus or do a lot of walking between your destination and where you board. If it's tropical-level hot or Arctic frigid, a cab is a true luxury.
History of Cabs in New York City
In the early 19th century, swanky horse-drawn hansom cabs often driven by African-Americans or newly arrived Irish immigrants carried well-heeled New Yorkers from place to place. Then in the 1920s, John Hertz founded the Yellow Cab Company, and it dominated the taxi world, and that's why yellow is synonymous with a taxi today. Yellow Cab Company was ultimately bought by the Checker Cab Company, and it led the industry for years to come. In the 1950s, New York City was swarming with cab companies, and the taxi as icon of NYC was born.
In the 1970s, NYC cabs, like the city itself, were on a downward spiral. They were dirty, with cigarette butts, chewed gum, and paper cups littering the seats. In 1970, yellow became the official color of all NYC medallion taxis. By the 2000s, taxis had cleaned up their act and added minivans and SUVs to the mix of cars to accommodate more passengers comfortably. Then in the 2010s Uber and then Lyft shook up the taxi world with their apps and cheaper fares. The cab companies have responded with apps of their own that give riders the same convenience as Uber and Lyft but with insured and licensed taxi drivers.
Hailing a New York City Taxi
Hailing a cab is as simple as stepping off the curb and holding out your arm—it only gets complicated when you need to figure out why many New York taxis seem to drive by without stopping for you. The hint is in the lights atop the cab.
- When just the center is lit, highlighting the medallion number, the cab is available.
- When the medallion number, as well as the side lamps, are lit, the cab is off-duty.
- When no lights are lit, the cab already has a fare and it is en route to its destination.
New York City Taxi Passenger Limits
- A maximum of four passengers can ride in traditional cabs; there are also some five passenger cabs that look more like minivans.
- A child under 7 is allowed to sit on a passenger's lap in the rear seat in addition to the passenger limit.
- A passenger is allowed to sit in the front seat with the driver when passengers have filled the rear of the cab or in the case of a passenger who cannot get into the rear of the cab.
What You Should Know About New York City Taxis
- It is always more difficult to get a cab when it's raining—so sometimes it can be quicker (and you'll even get less drenched) if you head to the subway.
- Riders can make multiple stops in a single cab ride, though the meter will continue to run throughout the trip and payment will be required at the end of the trip. There is no limit to the number of stops you can request.
- New York City is unique in that you cannot pre-arrange a pickup by a New York taxi. If you want to call for a ride rather than hail a cab you should contact a New York City car service.
New York Taxi Fares
- Minimum taxi fare is $2.50.
- Additional charges are 50 cents per 1/5 of a mile (at or above 6 mph) or for 2 minutes of time stopped or traveling below 6 mph.
- The nighttime surcharge is 50 cents for rides from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.
- The peak hour weekday surcharge is $1 and is charged for rides from 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays.
- There is a 50-cent New York State tax surcharge.
- There is no additional charge for luggage and no per passenger surcharge.
- Any tolls during the ride are the responsibility of the passenger in addition to the metered fare.
- If the driver uses E-ZPass to pay the toll (transponder on the front windshield), the passenger pays the reduced E-ZPass toll.
- Flat fares from JFK to Manhattan are $52.50 plus tolls as of January 2018; there is no night surcharge and the meter does not need to be run. There are no flat fares from LaGuardia Airport; the meter runs and the fare differs depending on where you're going. That said, fares from LaGuardia usually range from $20 to $30. Heavy traffic will, of course, increase the fare. Whatever you tip is in addition to these fares; 15 to 20 percent is a typical tip amount.
- There is a $17.50 surcharge for fares to Newark Airport in addition to return tolls.
- New York taxis accept payment by cash or credit card.
New York Taxi Apps
Curb, the Taxi App, connects you to a ride in 65 cities, including, of course, NYC. You make a request for a ride on the app, and in a few minutes a cab will show up. This app only hails licensed and insured taxi drivers. Not only that, but you can set it up so that you can just tap on the app at the end of your ride to pay so you don't have to dig around for your charge card or cash.
Arro works the same way as Curb: You tap a button on the app and in minutes a taxi comes to where you are. You can even see where the taxis near you are with the app's map. As with Curb, once you have set up the app, the payment for the ride is as simple as a tap.
If you see a green taxi in NYC, that is a Boro Taxi. Boro Taxis serve areas across New York City boroughs that don't get service from yellow medallion cabs. If you're in Manhattan north of West 110th Street and East 96th Street, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, or Staten Island, you can hail one of these easily recognized green cabs everywhere except at the airports, and they can take you anywhere you want to go. You can also pre-arrange for a Boro Taxi to pick you up in any of those areas, including the airports.
Boro Taxis cannot pick you up nor can you hail a ride inside the Manhattan exclusionary zone, which is reserved for yellow medallion cabs. The rates for Boro Taxis are the same as yellow cabs.
New York Taxi Rider's Bill of Rights
You might think the person behind the wheel of the taxi calls all the shots, but as a taxi rider in NYC, you have the right to:
- Direct the destination and route used
- Travel to any destination in the five boroughs of the City of New York
- A courteous, English-speaking driver who knows the streets in Manhattan and the way to major destinations in other boroughs
- A driver who knows and obeys all traffic laws
- Air-conditioning on demand
- A radio-free (silent) trip
- Smoke and incense-free air
- A clean passenger seat area
- A clean trunk
- A driver who uses the horn only when necessary to warn of danger
- Refuse to tip if the above are not complied with.
New York Taxi Complaints
If you ever have any problems with a New York Taxi, call 311 or file a complaint online. New York taxi drivers are required to take you to any destination in the five boroughs. You might occasionally experience drivers who don't want to take you to destinations in Queens or Brooklyn, but you can probably get them to change their minds if you start to write down down their medallion number and call 311 on your cell phone.