How to Taxi Like a New Yorker in New York City

How To: Hailing a cab in the Big Apple takes technique. Riding like a local requires panache. Cab driver Layne Mosler explains.

06.21.10 | 10:39 AM ET


The situation: You’re in New York City and you need a cab. Dozens of yellow taxis are zipping past, but you can’t seem to flag one down. Or maybe you have no idea how to pass yourself off as a local once you’ve succeeded. You need help.

I’ve been a licensed New York City cabbie for six months, and I’ve learned a few things. If you’re visiting the Big Apple and want to make like a New Yorker in one of the city’s 13,000 taxis, read on.

Hail with authority: A cab driver is looking in four directions and three mirrors, keeping other maniacal drivers off her tail, anticipating untelegraphed lane changes and scanning the streets for passengers at the same time. If you barely raise your hand, we can’t see you or cross four lanes of traffic in time to pick you up.

To properly hail a cab, step off the curb a few paces into the street, being careful to watch for oncoming traffic. Then thrust your right or left arm out toward the street, until it’s completely outstretched, at a 45 degree angle to the sky. Your palm should be facing down, your fingers extended. Don’t worry if you don’t see any oncoming cabs—when you salute the street this way, we can see you from hundreds of yards away. If you’re especially desperate, you can move your straight arm up and down. To see someone hail like a pro, head over to Central Park West and check out the doormen: They wave their arms as if they’re on a desert island begging an airplane to land—and they get us to pull over every time.

Consider the time of day: Day drivers usually return their cabs to the garage between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and night drivers do the same between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. You might have a hard time finding a cab during these changeover windows, so if you have to make a trip at those hours, know that it may take longer than usual to find a ride—especially if you’re heading a long distance, such as to the airport. An off-duty driver may be willing to take you where you need to go if you’re heading in the direction of his garage, but this can depend on his mood after a 10- to 12-hour shift.

The cabbie color palette: Yellow cab? Gypsy cab? Black car? Yellow cabs are the only taxis legally authorized to pick up street hails, but livery cabs (aka gypsy cabs or black cars) often infringe on our territory, even though they’re supposed to restrict their business to passengers who call them (or their dispatching companies) directly. What’s a passenger to do?

Consider this: Unlike livery drivers, yellow cabbies have to pass a rigorous geography exam and an English test. Plus, every yellow cab ride is regulated by the meter and tracked by the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s central GPS, and we accept credit cards. However, if you happen to be north of Central Park or in the outer boroughs—where yellow taxis rarely roam—feel free to hop in one of those black cars. If you’re anywhere between Central Park and southern Manhattan, a yellow cab is your safest bet.

When you’re in the back seat: Assume we speak your language. Several weeks ago three transvestites climbed into my taxi and launched into a chorus of Caribbean Spanish they assumed I didn’t understand. I listened closely as they described the fetishes of the clients they’d just serviced (“You wouldn’t believe the younger one! He wanted me to brush against his…”). They’d obviously forgotten that this is New York: Many taxi drivers speak at least two languages, and some of us speak five or more. So keep in mind that we probably understand what you’re saying.

Resist the urge to hit on us (unless you’re Viggo Mortensen and you’re riding in my cab): My colleagues and I often meet passengers who assume we’re willing to kiss them or go to breakfast (or beyond) while we’re on duty. Yes, hacking is a job that attracts a fair number of free spirits who can’t abide a traditional boss, but that doesn’t mean we’re willing or able to jump into a tryst. Especially if there’s no taxi stand nearby. Where would we park?

Spill it: Like bartenders and hairdressers before us, many cabbies have mastered the art of listening while remaining focused on the task at hand. We also know how unlikely it is that we’ll ever meet again. So go ahead and share your secrets. Even if we happen to pick you up a second time, you can depend on our discretion.

Anticipate the drop-off: If you’re paying in cash and we’re dropping you off someplace like Times Square or Grand Central Station, try to get your money ready ahead of time (unless you don’t mind being the object of honking as you’ve never heard it before).

Tipping 101: As long as your driver hasn’t endangered your life or the lives of others over the course of your journey, a 15-20 percent is standard for a taxi ride in New York. If you think we deserve more, we’ll naturally appreciate that. Cabbies pay anywhere between $150 to $200 to lease a car for the day, spend half to two-thirds of our shifts recouping that cost, and usually take home between $50 and 100 for 10 to 12 hours of driving. A nice tip can make our day, although a passenger with an interesting story to tell can give us just as much of a thrill.

Layne Mosler is a licensed New York taxi driver who documents her adventures in the U.S., Argentina and beyond at She's a New York editor at Not for Tourists and has contributed food and travel stories to MyMidwest, Time Out, and South American Explorer, among other publications.

18 Comments for How to Taxi Like a New Yorker in New York City

Rosenblum 06.21.10 | 1:27 PM ET

Ha ha ha….
“Unlike livery drivers, yellow cabbies have to pass a rigorous geography exam”
Boy, that was hysterical.
how many times have I gotten into a yellow cab and NY and asked to go to La Guardia only to have the taxi driver say to me ‘can you tell me how to get there’.
Why don’t they give these guys GPS?

Michael 06.21.10 | 2:55 PM ET

Any advice on how to convince a taxi driver to take you to Brooklyn?

Darrin 06.21.10 | 2:58 PM ET

It’s refreshing to hear a cabbie’s perspective on hailing and riding NYC taxis.  But I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention that people looking for cabs should look for the middle light on the roof.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen tourists crane their necks to see if a cab is occupied when the middle light is off.  If it’s off, the cabbie already has a fare.  If the light is on, then the cab is looking for a fare—game on.

Rosenblum 06.21.10 | 3:01 PM ET

I lived in Brooklyn for 8 years.
Get in the taxi. Close the door. Tell them the address in Brooklyn. If they refuse, tell them to drive you to the TLC (taxi and limousine commission) offices downtown instead so you can report them on the spot. Repeat their name to them - it’s on the license on the plexiglass behind their heads.  You’ll soon be going over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Layne 06.21.10 | 3:36 PM ET

Thanks a lot for your comments, everyone.
@Rosenblum - I’m sorry your cabbies haven’t been able to get you to La Guardia. Sometimes it takes a minute to translate what we learn in taxi school to the road. I agree that cabs should be equipped with GPS (which would make trips to obscure outer borough addresses that much easier).
@Michael - Rosenblum’s second comment is correct: cabbies are required by law to take passengers to any of the five boroughs and you can call 311 to complain about drivers who refuse to do so.
@Darrin - Good point about the light. During the day, though, it’s sometimes hard to see whether it’s on or not - and you never know if a driver is just getting ready to drop off a fare, or if s/he’s taking a break but would be willing to stop for you anyway, so the straight arm hail is good practice regardless of whether the light is on.

Melissa 06.21.10 | 6:57 PM ET

Layne - that was great! As the granddaughter of the (so family folklore says) 4th ever licensed cabbie, I’ve heard some great stories from ‘the good old days.” These tips are awesome. Dare I say, without jinxing myself, I’ve never had a problem with a cabbie. I know you hate the credit cards and my Grandad is probably turning over in his grave, but I love them. You write so well, and I give my website readers a ton of NYC travel advice as well - let me know if you ever want your own blog on here, lol! - and check the old photo of my relatives on one our Checker Cabs on the very bottom of the homepage. It’s pretty cool.

Virginia 06.21.10 | 8:10 PM ET

Layne - What fun.  I hope this helps all cabbies with pr.  I also had no idea that you get hit on.

Steve 06.21.10 | 8:43 PM ET

It’s tough out there if you are not experienced because you are competing for cabs (they call them taxis elsewhere) against some seasoned pros.

Chuck Kirchner 06.21.10 | 11:47 PM ET

Thank goodness for subways.  And no tips required.

Pete 06.22.10 | 8:59 AM ET

Don’t forget to walk up just one extra block or two if there is a big pool of people waiting where you are for a taxi. This might mean the difference between waiting for 5 minutes versus 30 minutes. Going the extra little difference matters.

Travel Guy 06.23.10 | 8:48 AM ET

Cute article, but…

Riding like a local requires PANACHE???  Spoken like a true local, lol…

... and why would I care about passing myself off as a local?  Just wondering.

When I take a cab, I like to pass myself off as a person willing to pay to get from point A to point B.

But it was a good read - kudos.

Layne 06.23.10 | 9:09 AM ET

Again - thank you for your words, everyone. It’s interesting for me to see the range of reactions people have to taxiing in New York (which is obvious when I’m behind the wheel, but in that context I’m not always privy to the reasons why people think the way they do about taking a cab).
@Melissa Glad you liked the piece. That photo of your family on the checkered cab is great. I actually don’t hate the credit cards as much as the next cabbie. Yes, we have to pay 5% on those fares, but you could also argue that fewer people would take taxis if they couldn’t use them. PS - Thrilled that you’ve never had a problem with a cabbie.
@Pete Good point about breaking away from the crowd to get a cab. I didn’t mention that the big avenues are the best places to catch cabs. Cabbies also frequently travel crosstown on 14th., 34th, 42nd., 57th, 72nd, and 86th streets, so odds are good for catching a ride there, too.
@Travel Guy You raise an interesting question. Obviously, we all have different approaches to travel and some people care more than others about blending in. In my experience, when people assume you’re a local, they treat you differently. Sometimes with more respect. Most of the cabbies I know dearly love their New York passengers because they understand the way the city works and how taxis fit into it. My hope with this piece was to give everyone that knowledge - whether they blend in is another issue. 06.29.10 | 10:23 AM ET

Great advice for hailing a cab in NY!  It’s a lot of fun to watch people hail cabs (especially on the Amazing Race).  They get frustrated if they don’t get one straight away.  It does take panache, especially when you’re outside of the U.S.  The tactics we use here may not work in another country.

Deborah-Eve 06.30.10 | 12:58 AM ET

What an interesting and well written blog!  You certainly have help explain my recent rides in New York taxis.  I had no idea that yellow taxis are the only ones legally authorized to pick up hailing passengers.  Last month in New York a non-yellow taxis stopped for us and then forgot to start his meter.  After a number of miles he said we would have to just pay him what we thought he was worth!  We had a lively conversation about the World’s Cup so he either was truly distracted or not on the up an up—he did seem sincere!  I’m going to remember your tips for the next time.

Boston Taxi 07.01.10 | 3:35 PM ET

Cute article, but…

Riding like a local requires PANACHE???  Spoken like a true local, lol…

... and why would I care about passing myself off as a local?  Just wondering.

When I take a cab, I like to pass myself off as a person willing to pay to get from point A to point B.

Atlanta Taxi 07.03.10 | 2:26 PM ET

Great advice for hailing a cab in NY!  I agree that walking away from people waiting for a cab! 2-3 blocks save time.

Izzy 07.05.10 | 8:06 PM ET

I consider myself an old school New Yorker, and I can tell you that the cab driving in this city 20 years ago was very different then now: they knew what they were doing.

I’ve taken many a cab ride lately where the driver should NOT have been granted a driving license. I had a guy a few months ago, I believe he might have been from India or Pakistan, who drove on top of the center divider the entire way of the 59th Street bridge - I had my heart in my throat the entire ride. It was a horrible experience.

I don’t want to bring in any racial subjects into this discussion, more like anthropological. Were the drivers back then better because many came from Eastern European countries instead of South Asian, African or Middle eastern countries? Lord help us if the Chinese decide to become hacks, ouch!

Ruchita 07.17.10 | 7:10 AM ET

I really enjoyed this post, especially the “examples in this post” portion which made it really easy for me to SEE what you were talking about without even having to leave the article. Thanks

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