Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reggie's Rules for Navigating One's Way Around Manhattan Like a New Yorker, Part II

In my previous installment in this series, I outlined Reggie's Rules for navigating the streets of Manhattan as a pedestrian.  Today's essay focuses on the next best form of transportation for getting around the city efficiently and quickly, namely taxicabs.

Reggie's Rules for Taking Taxis In and Around New York City

For those of us who live in Manhattan and who don't have a car and driver waiting at our every beck and call, taxis are the most convenient and swiftest form of above-ground transportation readily available.  New York's cabs are to its buses as the city's sparrows are to its pigeons, nimbly darting in and about traffic, seeking passengers and then speeding them to their destinations.

Betty Garrett, as Hildy the lady cab driver, with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly
and Jules Munshin, in a scene from the 1949 movie of On the Town

New York has more than 13,000 active taxicabs plying its streets, and the city's residents rely on taxis and other forms of mass transit far more extensively than people do elsewhere in America.  The city's taxi commission does a creditable job of enforcing the fairly extensive number of regulations that govern the city's fleets, and New York's cabs are generally cleaner and in better condition than those I've encountered in other American cities.

Although taxis in New York are not inexpensive, they are a relative bargain when compared with taxis found in other major international metropolises.  The last time I visited London, for instance, I found the cost of a ride in one of that city's justifiably famous taxis to be so astronomically expensive as to almost give me a heart attack.  It made me appreciate NewYork's taxis all the more.

Taxicabs are my primary form of transportation when I am out and about in Manhattan.  I take one to and from the office most days, and I regularly use them in the evening when traveling to and from restaurants and the theater, and on the odd weekend when I find myself in town and not at my country house.

Here are the rules that I observe when hailing, riding in, and exiting taxis in New York City.  

Reggie's Rules for Hailing Taxis

1.  When hailing a taxi, look to see if someone is already there waiting for one ahead of you; don't jump in front of someone who is obviously attempting to hail a taxi and steal it from them

It's really bad form to do so.  When approaching a curb to hail a taxi, always check to see if there is already someone there waiting to hail one.  Allow them to get the cab first.

To hail a taxi in New York, all one needs to do
is raise one's arm to alert the driver

2.  When waiting for a taxi, keep your eye out for someone who is attempting to jump ahead of you and steal the taxi you are waiting for, since rule number one is rampantly ignored in the city

If you see someone who is attempting to steal "your" cab, or who hasn't noticed that you are already there ahead of them waiting for one, nicely say "Excuse me, I believe I was here first" so they are made aware that you got there before them (or, if they are already aware of that, that you are on to them).  Hopefully that will deter such a person, at least if they have any conscience.

3.  When waiting to hail a taxi on a crowded street corner, hold your arm out even if one isn't approaching you, to let others know that you are already there waiting for one

It sometimes (but not always) obviates the need to observe rule number two.  Holding your arm out makes it apparent to later arrivals that you got there first.

Doormen in the city's better buildings are more than happy
to hail a taxi for appreciative residents and their guests

4.  If you are really in a rush for a taxi, and you see someone is already there waiting for one, it is sometimes acceptable to walk ahead a block to hail one

Just don't do it right in front of them.  And try not to make eye contact with them, either, when you ride by them if they are still standing on the side of the street, vainly waiting for the taxi that you nabbed ahead of them.

5.  When hailing a taxi, it is sufficient to merely hold your arm out—do not also shake or wave your hand or snap your fingers in an effort to get the attention of passing taxi drivers

Flailing about in such a manner is unnecessary and undignified, and the people Reggie has seen doing it look ridiculous.

Back when I first moved to New York, in 1980, the city's
iconic Checker cabs were still roaming the streets

Reggie's Rules for When Riding in Taxis

1.  When a man and a woman are traveling together and are getting into a cab at the outset of their journey, the man should open the door and get in first

Contrary to what you might think, it is more polite for the man to get in first and slide across the seat of the taxi, rather than for him to hold the door for the woman and allow her to enter before him.  This way the man is the one who is making the most acrobatic of efforts and allows the lady (assuming she is one) to slip into the cab discretely and with ease once he has done so.

A young Audrey Hepburn
opening the door of a New York taxi in 1949

2.  When entering a cab, acknowledge the driver before instructing him with your desired destination

Don't just bark out the address of where you want to go and then sit back without acknowledging that you have a human being in front of you in the driver's seat.  I make a point of always saying "Good morning" when I get in a cab in the morning, and I use appropriate salutations at other times of day, too.  I also make a point of saying "Please" and "Thank you" when instructing the driver where I would like to go, and when exiting the cab at the end of the trip.  It's basic good manners to do so.

It is always a good idea to be polite when
speaking to your taxi driver in New York City . . .

3.  It is in your right to instruct the driver which route you would like to travel along during your journey

If you want to drive down Second Avenue, and the driver thinks otherwise, it is in your right to insist (nicely) that he take you down Second Avenue.  New York taxi drivers are required to do what you ask, not the other way around.  That notwithstanding, Reggie will more often than not ask his taxi drivers' advice as to the most efficient route to take, particularly when traffic is heavy, since the driver is (usually) more familiar with current traffic conditions than Reggie is.

4.  When arriving at your destination, have your money out and ready to pay the taxi driver

Do not wait until after you have arrived to start putting the fare together.  It is inconsiderate to both the driver and others who might be waiting for the cab for you to spend time fumbling in your wallet or handbag, searching for the fare.

As I wrote in my previous post, there are times that it is
faster to walk to one's destination, rather than take a cab

5.  Simply because the cab meter suggests tips of $2.00, $3.00, or $4.00 doesn't mean you should pay it  

My general rule of thumb is to pay a minimum of around 20% to 25% of the metered fare as a tip, rounded up to the next dollar.  The higher the cab fare, though, the lower the percentage I tip.  While I am happy to pay a tip of $1.50 on top of a $4.50 cab fare (an increasing rarity these days given the escalation of fares in recent years), I am loath to pay the same 33% tip rate on top of a $12.00 fare, or higher.

Reggie's Rules When Exiting a Taxi

1.  When opening the door of a cab to exit, always check first to see if there is an approaching bicyclist or pedestrian, so that you avoid colliding with them

I have seen bicyclists slam into car and taxicab doors more often than I care to, often with disastrous consequences.  Be mindful of others as you exit a cab.  They have the right of way over you.

A vintage 1940s postcard showing Times Square's busy, taxi-filled streets

2.  Upon exiting a cab, always turn to check the seat and floor for your belongings before shutting the door

This is a Cardinal Rule, and one I learned the hard way.  I can't tell you how many umbrellas and gloves I carelessly left in cabs before I learned to always turn and check to see if I had done so.

3.  When exiting a cab where someone is standing, obviously waiting to take your place in it, leave the door ajar so they can more readily get in to it

It is polite to do so.  Also, acknowledge them in some manner—a simple nod of the head will do.  And if you are the one waiting to get into the cab, do thank the person who has left the door ajar for you, even if they sail right past you without acknowledging you.

And there you have it, Dear Reader, Reggie's Rules for taking taxis in and around New York.  Follow them and you will find yourself traveling confidently along the city's streets like a seasoned (and well-mannered) New Yorker.

There are times, though, when taking a taxi in New York is neither practical nor possible, and one must rely on other forms of above-ground transportation to get about town.  In addition to the city's excellent buses that ply the streets there are numerous livery car services available for hire, which is the subject of the next (and much shorter) installment of this series.

Next: Reggie's Rules for Taking Livery Cars In and Around New York

Photographs and images in this post are courtesy of, superstock, LIFE Images, vestaldesign, best-movie1, and flickr


  1. Excellent and thorough cab advice. LOVE the vintage photos.

  2. Hello Reggie:
    This has all been most interesting as well as being informative. We think that this is very sound advice for anyone visiting Manhattan for the first time.

    It is always very difficult for foreigners in another country to know how much to tip and your rule of thumb in this regard is certainly something to be borne in mind.

    We loved the image of the sailors in the taxi.

  3. As usual, a sensible and well-illustrated post. Thanks, Reggie, for instructing those of us who seldom see the inside of a taxi (very scarce in suburban San Diego!)

  4. You should visit Taipei. The taxis here are plentiful, clean, and the drivers are usually nice. Fares start at about US $2, and I think the longest ride I ever took to a different part of the city was $6 or $7. Tips are not expected, and in fact are often refused.

  5. This series is brilliant! It should be published and placed at every entry point to Manhattan.

  6. SO TRUE!!!!!

    Sorry for yelling:).

  7. Reggie, I agree with it all. I love taking New York taxis - actually New York buses too. All life is there!

  8. Although it may seem common in, say London, to exit and then pay the driver, the act in NYC might cause the driver to reach for the bat under the front seat. Heed Reggie's advice and have your money ready at your destination.

  9. Hello,

    This blogspot is brilliant.


  10. Now if only it were easy to find a cab at Lincoln Center when the Met lets out on a rainy night! - Frecky

  11. Hi Reggie - I enjoy your page very much & it is often the hightlight of my day. I have one small suggestion that has worked well for me in the past. When someone is about to steal "your" cab, offer to share. It usually works and in my case I usually have to insist that I pay my fair (fare!) share as the other person will usually not take any money from me by the time we get to my destination.

    You're doing a great job, keep up the good work!

  12. Back in the 1960s when I was at Sarah Lawrence, my idea of being rich was to be able to take a cab whenever I wanted.
    xox Camilla

  13. Reggie...I was wondering if you went to Trade Secrets,Ct , last weekend in Sharon Ct.? I would think someone that weekended in the Hudson Valley, would have read about it on Rural There were a lot of people that you probably know, showing product, and buying things at that event. Martha was there, Bunny, Carolyn, and others, that you would see in the New York Social Diary.

  14. Great advice Reggie, Applicable in every city not just NY.

  15. Parnassas: Taipei taxis sound like a dream come true—not only inexpensive, but no tipping allowed!

    Frecky: Stay tuned to the next installment in this series, where I will provide you with a solution to your dilemma.

    ABG: What a good suggestion, and thank you! Thank you, we did attend the Trade Secrets show, which we make a point of going to every year. We ran into a number of people there we we know, and came home with a car full of topiaries (again) and other plants to enjoy this summer.

  16. Dear Reggie, spot on. The same rules should be applied for London xx

  17. Excellent advice, as always! My only gripe with taking a cab in NYC is the amount of leg room. Why oh why don't we have London cabs-- I mean the actual cars? so much leg/luggage room! And I can truly say I've never had a cabbie refuse to go the route I wanted-- I've even shown them a thing or too (always prefacing with: my dad always goes this way and he's from Brooklyn).

  18. Cher Reg,

    Merci mille fois for the gentleman's tip of opening the taxi door and entering before and entering before the lady. Would you could include it in every post...oh, never mind. Yet another reason you are a prince among men. Miss you!

    Grosses bises,
    Bits xoxo

  19. May I add, don't try to hail a cab during shift changes. You might miss your flight. I also enjoyed your posts on restaurant behavior. Rule #1: Don't get drunk, and I too am tired of the Blackberry prayer. Do you ever eat at Antonucci? Its my fave.

  20. This is one great post. I had fun reading this, All you had mentioned here should be copied by more cities around america.

    Yellow Cab Lexington Ky


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