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Taxi Tales & Urban Legends

Published: 02/07/2014 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2014 » July/August 2014 » Special Reports » Home » Features »

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Recent headlines have drawn travelers’ attention to a spate of labor actions by cabbies in cities all over Europe.  They’re protesting the introduction of the high-tech startup Uber, which bills itself as a “transportation network company.”  The taxi drivers see Uber and other disruptive ridesharing technologies as a threat to their traditional livelihood. Cabbies contend that such app-based services have an unfair advantage because they’re not subject to the same fees and regulations placed on conventional taxis.

In fact, taxicabs and the people who drive them are very much a product of their urban environments.  Thus the quality – and the cost – of a cab ride can vary wildly from city to city from Zurich to Shanghai. So the editors of Business Traveler Magazine around the globe have compared notes from our common cab ride dramas to round up the best and the worst taxi experiences in the world.

New York

Big Yellow Taxi

The models may change, but Yellow rules: Yellow Cabs have plied the streetscape of Manhattan for over a century.

What and Where? You can’t miss them, on the one hand because of their bright yellow color and on the other hand, because they are so numerous. New York taxis – Yellow Medallion Cabs – are the ideal way to get around in Manhattan. They are operated by private companies and certified by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. You’ll know the official taxis by the medallion, a large metal plaque affixed to the hood in plain sight. 

How Do You Get One?Taxis seem to be ubiquitous on Manhattan’s streets, so you should be able to find a cab in short order (unless it’s raining). They have three lights on the roof; when the middle one is lit, that means the ride’s  available – if it’s dark, they already have a fare or are off duty. 

How much?As you get in the cab, you’ll notice the meter already shows the basic fare of $2.50.  Thereafter, each 1/5 mile (at 6 mph) or every minute of wait time or slow going costs an additional $0.50. There are also various fees for night fares or tunnels and bridges. Airport trips will make you dig a little deeper into your pocket: To JFK International airport the official flat fare is $52 plus tolls and tip. From Manhattan to Newark International the total is the amount on the meter plus $17.50 and all tolls for bridges and tunnels both out and back. For the trip to LaGuardia you pay what’s on the meter. It’s best to have cash; while most cab drivers accept credit cards, not all do. And don’t forget to tip – usually 15 to 20 percent. You’ll find the website offers good guidelines.

What’s Not to Like?When it rains, New York streets descend into chaos – and getting a taxi well nigh impossible. So you can either duck into the subway or stand in the downpour waving a large wad of cash… But all jokes aside, a good option is Taxi Magic, an app for android and iPhone that allows you to easily book a cab in advance. 

For details visit

London Keep Calm and Carry On

Black taxis are as iconic to London streets as red double-decker buses – and their drivers are the best-trained world.

What and Where?Everybody knows London taxis – black and beefy, best known as “Black Cabs” or “hackney carriages” and wonderfully comfortable. The sign on the roof means something; when it’s lit, it means the car is available.  Black Cab drivers must pass a rigorous examination before they can take the wheel of a taxi.  This makes them the perfect city guides, who not only know all the sights but the history behind them.  Even if your cab fare seems extravagant, a trip with them is worth every penny.

How Do You Get One?As in many other European cities, you can hail taxis on the street (but only Black Cabs), at taxi stands (which you’ll find at larger train stations, at hotels and at the airports) or you can book a car in advance. 

How much?Fares varies depending upon time of day and distance.  The minimum price is ?2.40 (about $4). Black Cabs all have meters, but it’s possible to come to an agreement on price before the trip commences. It is advisable to carry enough cash with you, since not every car is equipped to take credit cards. The trip from the city center to Heathrow costs about ?50 (about $85). However booking a taxi in advance may get you a better price. A tip of ten percent is typical.

What’s Not to Like? Stick with the Black Cabs. Don’t be tempted to jump into just any unlicensed cab on the street. These drivers are likely untrained, uninsured and illegal, and you put yourself at risk. Exception: The local cabbies at the airport taxi ranks are usually OK.

For more information visit



Goods in Short Supply

Paris just has too much demand for too few taxis. Plus the drivers don’t seem to know the first thing about service.

What and Where?Actually there are some good things to say about Paris taxis. The cars are predominately Mercedes, and they have an unmistakable sign on the roof with a red or green light to show whether they are occupied or available. So much for the theory.

Unfortunately in practice, as soon as a few drops of rain fall or the Metro service cuts back at night, a free-for-all for the few available taxis ensues. 

How Do You Get One? If you’re involved in a fracas for that last cab, you’ve really got two choices: You can call a taxi service; for example, Taxi Bleu, Tel. 49361010 or Taxi G7, Tel. 47394739, which can get costly.  Or you can head to the next taxi stand and wait.

In Paris, most cab drivers are of foreign extraction and many have not exactly mastered French.  And unlike London cabbies, they’re not particularly well-versed in the geography of the city, so sometimes they’ll take you out of your way – either accidentally or on purpose – to get to your destination.

How much?At the end of your trip, you pay what’s on the meter, but the fare system is confusing; it’s broken up into three zones: A-Paris, B-Petite Couronne and C-airport, and there are big differences twixt day and night fares. Paris is notorious for traffic snarls, so rides can be time-consuming and costly. A trip to Paris CDG during the day runs 40 to 50 ($54-$68) and at night about 70 ($95).  

Few cabs are equipped to take credit cards, so if you want to pay that way, you should tell them when you order the car.  A small tip is typical, usually by rounding up to the next euro. The good news is, since the drivers don’t offer much in the way of service, they don’t expect much in the way of tips either.

What’s Not to Like?Immediately after leaving security at the airport, you’ll probably be accosted by drivers offering rides in cars sans taxi signs. If you’re brave, you might save a few euros. But newcomers to the City of Lights, and in particular female travelers should avoid these illegal hacks, especially at dark.

For details visit



Lost in Translation

Getting to your destination is a challenge in Shanghai – even if you’ve got good nerves and the address written in Chinese handy.

What and Where?In Shanghai there are about 45,000 taxis, deployed by about 150 companies which you can differentiate primarily by the colors (light red, burgundy, blue, white, gold, green). The service is more or less the same. All licensed taxis have a taxi character on the roof, a meter and a sign with the characters “kong che“ on the dashboard, which if lit means passengers are welcome. 

How Do You Get One?If you hail a cab on the street, you’ve got to be quick; the competition can be fierce.  Most cab drivers do not speak English, so it’s a good idea to have your hotel write your destination in Mandarin. Also most hotels have a Magic Taxi Card with the most important attractions printed in Chinese to show the cab driver. 

You’ll need good nerves. Shanghai traffic can be chaotic and cab drivers are happy to use their accelerators and brakes with abandon. Seat belts are obligatory and you’ll be glad to make use of yours. 

How much?The basic fare during the day is RMB12 (about $2) for the first three kilometers; the night rate is RMB18 ($3).  Each additional kilometer costs RMB2.40 (nearly $0.40). At night drivers have been known to manipulate the meters. So note the driver’s number (posted in the left front on the passenger’s side) and call the taxi authority hotline (96 20 00).

Pay with cash or with a Traffic Card, which you can load at metro stops and which is also valid for public transportation. The trip from city center to the airport costs between 170 and 200 RMB (about $27 to $32). Tips are not expected.

What’s Not to Like?If you sit behind the driver, don’t roll your window down, even if it’s a hot day. Chinese expectorate habitually and there’s the risk that you might get the driver’s spit coming back through the window in your face (no kidding!).

For more information visit


Welcome to the Chaos

Legitimate taxis are hard to come by in the Indian capital and they ply their trade almost exclusively between the large hotels and the airport.

What and Where? Delhi ranks among the most chaotic cities in the world. However the relatively rare “genuine” taxis to be found here are surprisingly well run. There are two kinds of official taxis: the black-and-white can be found primarily at the airport and at the large hotels, and – if you’re lucky – can also be hailed on the street. The yellow-and-black radio taxis are summoned by telephone.

How Do You Get One?At the airport you can get a black-and-white taxi with the sign on the roof. Fares are based on the distance driven, so if you don’t know the city it’s easy to get taken for a ride. Better to go to the rank of radio taxis. There you get a vehicle assigned and a firm price quoted. Reliable radio taxi services to call include Easy Cap (Tel. 43434343) and mega Cap (Tel. 41414141). If you call from your mobile phone, you get a text message with the taxi number and the name of the driver.  

Most drivers speak at least some English and know the large hotels and the most important attractions. However addresses in the old part of town can be far more difficult.

How much?Fares in the black-and-white taxis are based on distance, each kilometer runs 50 rupees (about $0.83). When you call a radio cab, generally a call fee of 50 rupees applies, plus 20 rupees ($0.30) per kilometer during the day and about 25 percent more at night. Airport to city center totals about 500 rupees ($8.37).

What’s Not to Like?Don’t fall for the blandishments of the ever-so-friendly unofficial drivers who will beset you immediately outside airport security. And in the city if you’re unsuccessful hailing a cab, retreat to one of the large hotels where lines of official taxis await, or order one up by telephone.  And if you want to avoid whole problem from the outset, pay a little more and get your hotel to provide a car and driver.

For more information visit


Tokyo Tokyo Perfection has a price: Riding in a Tokyo taxi

is comfy, clean and costly.

What and Where?Japan’s capital can pride itself on having the friendliest cab drivers, the best taxi service and the cleanest roads in the world – at least that’s what a recent online survey by Tripadvisor revealed. And nothing in our experience can argue with that point – but there’s a price to be paid for the top service. 

As is the case in Shanghai, taxis come in different colors, the most widespread of which are orange or green depending upon the cab company.  Each taxi has a lighted sign behind the windshield: If it’s green, the cab is occupied.  Red or yellow means it’s available for the next passenger.

How Do You Get One?In Tokyo you can hail a cab anywhere on the street, or you can find them at taxi stands and at large hotels. You can also call a taxi service in advance: The most widely used are Tokyo Musen (Tel. 03/33 30 21 11) and Cheka Musen (Tel. 03/35 73 37 51). By law seat belts are mandatory in Tokyo cabs. Also don’t assume your Japanese cab driver speaks English; thus it’s advisable to have the destination written down in Japanese.

How much?Much! Tokyo is far and away among the most expensive cities for taxi users. The base fare starts at ¥710 (about $7) for the first two kilometers and adds about ¥90 (about $0.88) for every 288 meters (just under 1/5 mile) and/or 2 minutes. Night fares are 30 percent higher. Payment can be made in cash or in most cases by credit card, but that may require a minimum fare of ¥5,000 ($50). A trip from Narita airport to city center Tokyo starts at about ¥15,000 (about $150). Our hint: Take the train into town.  It’s easy, clean, and not only considerably less expensive, but considerably faster, particularly during Tokyo’s notorious rush hour.

What’s Not to Like?Offering a tip can backfire: It’s not customary and many cab drivers may even be insulted.

For details visit

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