Take me There

Fair Fares & New  
York Taxi Drivers 

Being a vertical city, everything goes up in New York. Including cab fares. So if you’re coming over in September, bring extra change (or charge) to pay for your rides. They’ll cost more, even though they still won’t buy you a silent ride, or a clean backseat, or the fastest way to get to you wherever. Just pay up, tip well, and get out.
Such bluntness is the essence of what’s expected from this city, even though few still exercise it. Not much else reflects its gritty character as yellow cabs do, however. London motormen may have an encyclopedic brain; San Francisco drivers have their own app. But with one hand on the wheel while screaming in a foreign language at the Blue Tooth, New York cabbies can beat them all up.
We’re not about to give away the secrets for a pleasant ride for we still care for our own necks. Or as the locals say, spill the beans and you may sleep with the fishes. But even if there were anything pleasant about shaking from side to side in the backseat of a Medallion cab (if you have to ask, forget about it), we wouldn’t recommend you to dwell too much on it.
That’s because you may need to keep an eye on the driver at all times, lest he talks to you, during a break on his endless exchange on the phone, and you may not be paying attention. Besides, if you know what’s good for you, you’d better interject a few trajectory tips of your own, so they know you’re not to be taken for a ride.
There’s some obvious exaggeration in what we’ve just said about the risky but often necessary business of hailing a cab in New York these days. Alas, the Travis Bickle‘s dark 1970s is way behind us now, even though we kind of feel sorry for it. The city is safer, the streets are better lit and the drivers, well, the drivers are still rude and impolite. So what?
We’re all busy here, trying to get wherever we’re going, so even though no one is forgetting to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ just yet, we’re rarely in the mood for small chat, even if you’ve mastered long ago the art of understanding accents and poor grammar English. On the sidewalk, we’d be glad to point you on the right direction. But inside a cab, we’d rather be left alone.

FARE? LIFE’S UNFAIR
So, the first thing you need to know is that a ride from the Kennedy Airport to Manhattan will cost $52, an increase of $7, exclusive of tolls and tip. If you land in Newark, the surcharge is $17.50 from $15. The 17% increase was determined by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, in the first increase since 2004. Have a problem with that? take it up with them.
Besides, this is the kind of info you’ll find online, never mind a guide, so we’ve already wasting our space here on it. But it’s worth noting that the taximeter (hence the word taxi, from the French) compounds the fare every 1/5 of a mile, along other factors such as mileage run and stoppage time. Simply walking into a cab already sets you back a non negotiable $2.50.
To give you an idea, in 1948, the first quarter of a mile would cost you $0.20. Then again, if you were already taking cabs at that time, you gave up on talking about the rising costs of living long ago. But even in the middle 1990s, the initial fare was ‘only’ $2. Of course, subway tokens, slices of pizza and a quart of milk were also much cheaper.
We’re going on and on here, assuming that you know we’re talking about those yellow cabs you’ve seen in movies. But unlike the Caprices and the Checkers that preceded them, now there are almost four thousand hybrids picking up fares in New York, out of a universe of close to 14 thousand, including Hondas, Fords, Toyotas, and other even less distinctive makers.
And if you’re walking one day and a black, Lincoln Continental or a similar one, slows down alongside you and the driver makes a motion for you to come on board, they’re not trying to pick you up. Or rather, they are, but just for a ride that’s more expensive and hard to anticipate its costs, even though way cleaner, than the ones offered by yellow cabs. We wouldn’t go for it.

HOW CLEAN IS YOUR CAB?
Not much, as expected. In fact, it’s borderline gross, according to a recent informal research conducted by New York Magazine. In a pretty straightforward experiment, they swabbed the handles and seats with sterile testing kits of seven random taxis, then sent the kits to the NYU Langone Medical Center microbiology specialist Dr. Philip Tierno to be analyzed.
The results were almost as discouraging as the price of the fare. Mold, E. coli bacteria, oral organisms (from saliva), and some kind of yeast that could be vaginal- or anal-generated. Worst: ‘Staphylococcus aureus and staphylococcus epidermidis were also detected on several backseats,’ according to the magazine.
Since we’ve heard of anyone who, upon made aware of such disgusting results, decided to never more take a cab ride in their lives, we assume that we’ll all live, even if a little sick. These organisms, after all, all live in the human body, some in and others on our skins, and it’s not that we’re constantly attacked by then per se.
But obviously that relatively new Surgeon General advice, of washing your hands with soap as often and thoroughly as possible, is as good now as it was in the beginning of the 1900s, forgetful and hygiene-challenged fellows we all know and love notwithstanding. Short of that, those alcohol-based, bacteria-killers-in-a-bottle hand sanitizers also can do the trick.
And don’t get too gross out by what you may read and hear about New York, either. Yes, everything is incredibly dirty, from subway tracks to overstuffed garbage bins along Broadway, but that doesn’t mean you’re about to eat something out of it, if you don’t absolutely have to. As with the noise, people will hate you if you cover up your ears.
If you get really annoyed by the soot and waste and steel wheels screeching inside the stations, this is not the place for you to come. Perhaps your online surfing will lead you to an Ashram in India (yeah, that would be cleaner…) or some monastery catering to non-monks who, nevertheless, like to lecture everybody else on the joys of being one.

ORIGINS & THE LONDON BRAIN
Even though rides for hire couldn’t possibly be invented here, the modern concept of taxis seemed to have originated in the 1899: horseless, battery-powered carriages that began replacing hansom cabs in New York, in 1899. Within 10 years, the Big Three of Detroit were already dominanting the field. That’s when the yellow color for cabs was also introduced.
For New Yorkers, the Checker cab that Bickle drives on Taxi Driver is an icon of the practice of hailing a cab to get out, or head straight into, bad neighborhoods. As such, its demise in 1999 is seen as a nostalgic act. Also gone is the era of the big, spacious Caprices, replaced by the more sardine-can-like cars of our time.
London, of course, has its own distinctive cab too, and the city’s extremely complicated street grid wound up forming specialist drivers, who need to accumulate an enormous amount of information before venturing into the business of taking you to Trafalgar Square. Honoring their skill, a British neuroscientists developed a study to match and understand where it came from.
The study, “Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers,” gave author Eleanor Maguire of University College London the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, in 2003, even though she had no idea what the award for ‘research that cannot or should not be reproduced’ represented.
The research showed that the ‘posterior hippocampus, thought to be a navigation centre in the brain, is enlarged in London taxi-drivers. What’s more, the volume of the hippocampus correlates with years of experience in the cab.’ It suggested a ‘capacity for structural plastic changes in healthy human brains — a finding with important clinical implications.’

AN APP, FEW BUMPS
Another interesting development about boarding someone else’s car to get to somewhere, is a new iPhone app, called SideCar, that’s in use in San Francisco. It aims at ‘peer-to-peer ridersharing,’ by linking the rider with a usually non-professional driver, through a cashless donation paying system that crowdsources a fair price.
Naturally, something for a city with a shortage of professional cab drivers, and where people are weary of getting into a car with a stranger. Which means, not much that most New Yorkers can relate to anyway. But if it works up there, it’s fine with us. Somehow we don’t think you’ll find a similar service operating in the east coast anytime soon.
Which makes us think that perhaps is not such a bad idea to offer a few pointers, if you happen to come from afar, lest not you getting into a shuffle after enjoying the Phantom or one of those shows that only non-residents seem to enjoy, and we feel guilty for not having warned you when we had a chance.
First, keep in mind that even if you’re trying to hail a cab for the past hour, it’s raining, and you have kids with you, someone else can still walk right in front of you and ‘steal’ your ride. It’s not stealing, though, just being an A-hole and heaven knows this city has its share of them. Go ahead and curse like a sailor; it’s expected, but that cab is lost.
So you don’t get into a curbside fistfight, it’s best to hold your ground and hope that the driver will choose you. It’s completely random anyway. And watch out, for they may swerve from the opposite side of the road, cutting everyone else off, and engaging into a shouting match with other drivers, to pick you up. It’s not your fight, so don’t take sides.
If, at this point, someone attempts to get in before you, you’re entitled to scream something bland, such as, hey, you freaking motherfreaker (pardon the euphemisms here; as we said, you may have kids with you), and all that. You may still lose it, but at least you let it out. Otherwise, just board the godamn car already.
Or, you may decide to skip the September price hike and come to New York right now. We certainly need more people to share our current heat wave, crowded restaurants (it’s all for the tasty AC), and the general miserable mood. You’re welcome, of course. And that, dear reader, concludes our cab rounddown of the day.

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3 thoughts on “Take me There

  1. Lisa at fLVE says:

    I don’t take cabs in NY. I have relatives/friends of family there so I know what’s up. 😉

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  2. Our taxi fares here generally run about $3.00 for every 1/8 mile, or $24 per mile. If one takes the trolley somewhere ($2.50) and misses the last one at midnight, it can be very expensive to catch a taxi home. For me it would be about $200.

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  3. Sounds exciting! A pavement brawl! I was in New York once with my brother and had a great time. Only get a taxi twice though-to and from the airport….but now I just keep imagining what could have been on the seats! Lovely! Haha.

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