This post has the information you need to how to get a taxi in New York City – known locally as “hailing a cab”. The words “taxi” and “cab” are interchangeable. We compare taking a taxi to taking either the subway or an Uber. Read our master post on how to get around NYC for more options.
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 generally very accurate. Don’t let a driver tell you a price other than what the meter says!
Once the meter is running
Methods of Payment Accepted
If you were 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 really awful, did not follow your instructions, was rude and DID drive 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.
We highly recommend that you take a look at our in-depth post on traveling to and from airports in New York City.
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. This video shows you how.
How to tell if a taxi is available
On the top of taxis are small lit panels 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:
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 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 a GPS device. 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 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.
Difference between a yellow taxi and a green taxi
Yellow cabs are the official, and iconic, taxis in NYC. Green cabs are new to the city, since 2013, and the program was created to serve areas of New York not commonly served by yellow medallion cabs. Yellow taxis swarm Manhattan. Go to Brooklyn or Queens, it is not likely you will see any yellow taxis. But now you will see green taxis! 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!
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 a using a yellow taxi. 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 drive 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?
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-doors 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.
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:
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!