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How to Get a Taxi in NYC

Updated: April 17, 2024

You may have seen in movies characters step to the curb, hold up an arm, and yell "Taxi!" Since it is a movie a yellow cab immediately comes over.

The process isn't all that different in reality, though don't expect a cab to pull up right away!

As local New Yorkers, our tour guides have hailed thousands of taxis and have a lot of wisdom to share with you. This post does just that.

We also gathered insight from the 210k members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook Group and their experiences hailing taxis.

Our Facebook group consists of locals, like our tour guides, expats, return visitors to NYC, and newbies to the city.

You don't need to join to read the posts, comments, and suggestions. A link can be found at the bottom of this post.

In addition to teaching you the tricks to hailing a cab, we also go over prices and compare taking a taxi to taking the subway or using an Uber. 

Also, take a look at our post on how to get around NYC. Knowing the costs of transportation is a big factor in the overall cost of visiting NYC if you are on a budget.


The easiest way to get a cab is to have someone else do it for you if you are in a scenario that allows for that.

If you are staying at a hotel, the hotel doorman likely has a strong whistle and the perfect arm wave. Many hotels have cabs waiting outside at the ready to pick up a fare.

At the airports, there are specific lines for taxis.

However, when you are out and about seeing the sights, you will need to hail that taxi yourself. 

Taxi Smarts

How to tell if a taxi is available

On the top of every taxi is a small panel with the taxi's medallion number on it.

How the panel is lit indicates if the cab is available, already has a passenger, or is off-duty. These are the rules:

  • If only the center light (the taxi #) is lit, the cab is available.
  • If no lights are lit, the cab is occupied. You'd think you can tell that just by looking, but it's easier when looking down an entire street to use the light system than testing your long-range vision to see if a person is inside!
  • When the entire panel is lit, the cab is off-duty and not picking anyone up. The side lamps say OFF DUTY if you are close enough to read them.
  • Sometimes an off-duty taxi will pull over and ask you where you are going. If it is along their route home anyway, they may take you. The driver must still use the meter even if they are off duty.

Get in the taxi and THEN tell the driver where you are going. 

That may sound odd, but taxi drivers don't usually want to leave Manhattan to take people to Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx.

But taxi regulations (see the section below) require a driver to take you to wherever you want to go, even if it is inconvenient for them.

If a taxi driver asks you through the window where you want to go before you are in the taxi, they might say no and drive away.

So, get in the taxi and then say where you are going.

It's okay to be general with your destination when in Manhattan

In Manhattan, taxi drivers know most streets and certainly popular destinations.

For example, if you say take me to the Empire State Building, they will know it's at 34th Street and 5th Avenue.

It is also ok to tell the driver the intersection, for example, "the corner of Canal Street and Broadway". 

These days taxis are equipped with GPS devices. So, no matter your destination the driver can figure it out.

Outside of Manhattan, the driver will likely rely on GPS directions -- or if you know, by all means, tell them! 

No more than four passengers are allowed in a taxi

This is the law. Don't try to hide that 5th person scrunched up in a ball on your laps. The driver cannot take you.

If there are 4 of you, feel free to have someone sit in the front passenger seat - just ask the driver first.

If you have a child, by law, anyone over the age of 7 requires a seat and a seatbelt. Younger travelers can sit on someone's lap. 

Enticing a taxi to choose you as their next passenger

No, you don't have to 'show a little leg' like in the old movies. You can use hand gestures though.

For example, if you are just going a short distance, hold out your arm and make your hand into the letter "C". This signals to drivers that you're only going a short distance.

If you are going to the airport, instead of holding up one arm, hold up both arms and flap your arms like a bird.

Onlookers will think you are crazy, but a driver will know you want to go to the airport and that means more money for them.


New York Yellow Taxis do not offer a flat rate other than to certain airports.

You will be charged by a meter counting time and distance. Once you are in the taxi and it starts moving, the meter starts running.

The meters are very accurate. Don't let a driver tell you a price other than what the meter says!

Also, always ask for a receipt!

Base charges

  • The initial charge is $3.00. 
  • State tax surcharge of $0.50.
  • Improvement Surcharge of $1.00.

Once the meter is running

  • You pay $ 0.70 per 1/5 mile when traveling above 12 mph or per 60 seconds in slow traffic or when the vehicle is stopped.

Rush hour charges

  • From 4 pm to 8 pm on weekdays, you will pay an additional $2.50. 
  • From 8 pm to 6 am, you will pay an additional $1.00. 
  • For all trips that begin, end or pass through Manhattan south of 96th Street you will pay a surcharge of $2.50

Extras charges

  • If there are toll fees for crossing bridges or tunnels, you pay for them. Note that the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn are free. Tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn have toll fees. Between Newark Airport and Manhattan, you must pay either bridge or tunnel toll fees.

Some good news

  • There is no charge for luggage and no per-passenger surcharge!


  • You can pay with American cash, though a driver will not usually take bills over $20. So if your fare is $12, try not to give him/her a $100 bill. They most likely have the change.
  • Taxis accept credit cards! The machine is located in the passenger section of the cab so you don't give your card to the driver. The credit card machine has all the instructions to follow, explains what you are being charged and even tells you how much tips would be (10%, 15%, 20%) so you don't have to do the math! If you want a receipt you must ask the driver for one.
  • At night, it can be dark in the back of the taxi, making it difficult to see inside your purse or wallet to find your cash or credit card. Feel free to ask the driver to put the light on in the back seat. They are happy to do so if you ask.


If you are satisfied with your driver, then a 15% tip is standard.

If the driver was exceptional, friendly, and didn't drive like a maniac, 20% is a very nice tip.

If your driver was awful, did not follow your instructions, was rude, and drove like a maniac, you don't need to tip.

Check out our guide to Tipping in New York City to know in advance what customary practice is. 


John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) 

  • Flat rate to and from Manhattan is $70. Please do tip.
  • State tax surcharge of $0.50.
  • Improvement Surcharge of $1.00.
  • Rush hour surcharge (4 pm to 8 pm weekdays, excluding legal holidays) of $5.00
  • For all trips that begin, end or pass through Manhattan south of 96th Street you will pay a surcharge of $2.50

Newark Airport (EWR)

  • There is no flat rate so you will pay by the meter rate listed above.
  • An extra $20.00 surcharge.
  • Depending on your Manhattan location, you may have to pay a tunnel or bridge toll fee.

LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

  • There is no flat rate so you will pay by the meter rate listed above.
  • An extra $5.00 surcharge.
  • Depending on your Manhattan location, you may have to pay a tunnel toll fee.

We highly recommend that you take a look at our in-depth post on traveling to and from airports in New York City.

Difference between a yellow taxi and a green taxi

Yellow cabs are the official and iconic taxis in NYC.

Green cabs serve areas of New York City not commonly served by yellow medallion cabs.

Green taxis are allowed to pick up passengers in northern Manhattan (north of West 110th Street and East 96th Street), and anywhere in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens (excluding the airports). 

They can drop you off anywhere without restriction. Green taxis have another feature not widely known: you can call one in advance or use their app to see if one is nearby!

*Note: The city announced in 2023 a pilot program to replace green cabs with pre-arranged trips only, similar to services offered by Uber and Lyft.

Watch this video about green taxis, but will also help you understand the taxi system in general.


If you are not familiar with UBER, it is a private, app-based car service company that can sometimes be a good alternative to using a yellow taxi.

In our experience, UBERs are the better choice when you need to be somewhere fast. You can't always rely on getting a yellow cab. Download the UBER app before you arrive in NYC so you will have it ready to go.

The UBER app enables you to see if a UBER car is near your location and will give you the estimated fare when you enter your destination.

A yellow taxi can't give you an estimate since it's based on a meter-based system.

With UBER if you see that a driver is nearby, and the price looks right, you confirm your request and your driver comes right to you. (Learn how to use the app by clicking here.)  

So how do taxis and UBER cars compare to each other? When might one be the better choice?

  • Availability If you just cannot find an available taxi, then UBER (or Lyft) will be your best bet.  Warning: If it is raining, your best bet will be the subway! 
  • Price  New York taxis are on average $1.40 less than the cheapest level of UBER. For short trips, locally, it won't make much difference For longer trips, UBER is better because you can get your estimated cost in advance.
  • Location If you are somewhere that taxis don't frequently travel, using UBER or another carshare service is ideal. You can't hail a cab when there aren't any driving by!
  • Safety If safety is of major concern to you, take a yellow taxi.  Both taxi and UBER drivers are screened and background checked, but yellow taxis are much easier to follow up with, should something go wrong with your ride.
  • Ease of Use  This depends on your comfort level with technology versus street smarts. If you are a techie type, you will love using UBER. If you are more street-smart, hailing a yellow taxi will be a cinch!
  • Fun-Factor  Taxi cabs win hands down! What trip to New York is complete without living dangerously on the edge for a minute, standing a little too far into traffic, with your arm high in the air, yelling, "TAXI!"

TIP:  Not many people know this, but official NYC taxis also have an app, called Curb, that lets you can book a ride even up to 24 hours in advance.

Curb also offers you the chance to pick what size taxi you need (4-door or SUV-sized). You can also pay by credit card in the app or with cash in the car.  Available for iPhone & Android.


The choice between taking a taxi or traveling by subway comes down to a few factors: the size of your group, the distance you are traveling, the time of day/night, and your budget.

  • If you are more than 4 people, it's the subway for you. You can also consider taking two taxis, but it's not so easy to get two taxis at the same time.
  • If you are in a rush and it is "rush hour" (8-10 am and again 4-6 pm) take the subway. It might be crowded but the trains will be running frequently to accommodate people going to work. Plus, the street traffic will slow you down in a taxi.
  • Take a taxi if it's late at night. Although you'd be amazed how many people are on subways, even at 3 in the morning, it's best after 11 pm to take a taxi, especially if you are not used to the subway. Also, the subway lines are often rerouted after 11 pm or midnight so that repairs can be made. It can be quite confusing so opt for a taxi.
  • The cost factor is a bit harder to gauge. If you have an unlimited ride card, why pay for a taxi when you have already paid for the subway? If however, you have a pay-per-ride card, do a little math. A subway ride is $2.90 per person. A taxi has an immediate base fare of $2.50, then you pay for the mileage. Better off with the subway generally. But...if you are four people, don't have unlimited subway cards, and are going a short distance..."TAXI!"

TIP: Our guides to navigating the subway system and which MetroCard to buy will help you enormously!


In New York, these are taken seriously, though most New Yorkers are too distracted to care, and cab drivers are pretty good about following the rules.

As a taxi rider, you have the right to:

  • Direct the destination and route used 
  • Travel to any destination in the five boroughs of New York
  • Air-conditioning on demand
  • 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
  • A radio-free (silent) trip
  • Smoke and incense-free air
  • A clean passenger seat area and a clean trunk 
  • A driver who uses the horn only when necessary to warn of danger
  • You have the right to refuse to tip if the above are not complied with.

Truly, taxi rides in New York are part of the fun of being in the Big Apple. Drivers can be very welcoming and entertaining.

Make the most of your ride in an iconic yellow taxi cab!

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About The Author

Courtney Shapiro

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker in love with the city’s history, culture and food. She's a world travel as well and enjoys sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined Free Tours by Foot in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She still leads tours on a part-time basis. READ MORE...
Updated: April 17th, 2024
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