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Hailing a taxi cab in New York City for the first time can elicit a wide range of emotions: anxiety, excitement, apprehension, and even confusion. Doing it isn't all that challenging, but for a newcomer to the Big Apple, it's something entirely unfamiliar. Additionally, there are a number of questions that go along with New York City's classic yellow taxis: Are they expensive? Is it worth taking one over the subway? Does Uber offer a better deal? All of these should be taken into account when using the city's most iconic method of transportation.

For anyone who is new to taxi-hailing, or just transportation in New York City, in general, here's everything there is to know about catching a taxi.

UPDATE: 2023/07/07 13:57 EST BY NOAH STAATS

How Safe Are New York City Taxis? We Have The Answer!

This article has been updated with new information regarding NYC taxi safety, as well as whether someone is better off in one over an Uber or Lyft. Whether it's your first time in New York or a routine business trip: don't be afraid to wave an arm in the air and make some noise!

First Things First: How To Hail A Taxi Cab In NYC

Overhead view of New York City street scene with taxis driving down Bowery past the buildings of the Nolita neighborhood in Manhattan NYC
Overhead view of New York City street scene with taxis driving down Bowery past the buildings of the Nolita neighborhood in Manhattan NYC
  • Hailing a cab in NYC takes confidence.
  • People need to wave or flag down a taxi to request one.

It's good to get some insider tips on how to get around NYC by taxi, bus, and train before visiting. Hailing a cab in NYC is not as intimidating as it seems. While it might take some finesse and a bit of New York confidence, it's nowhere near impossible, even for a newcomer. One good tip for newcomers is to allow someone else to do the work for them - i.e., the hotel doorman or concierge. For those leaving JFK Airport, there are lines for taxis, so hailing one is not necessary.

The easiest way to hail a taxi outside these circumstances is to simply put one's hand out and literally wave one down. It might feel unusual and out of one's comfort zone, but it's the only way - to this day - to properly hail a taxi. For those who are really uncomfortable with this, there's always the option to call a taxi company or just opt for Uber.

Is The Taxi Available?

Sometimes, a taxi will already have passengers inside, which means it is unavailable. To determine if this is the case, one should look for the following things:

  • Whether the center number of the taxi light is on, which means it's available and the driver is on-duty.
  • If the entire panel is lit up, that usually means the driver is off-duty and unavailable; additionally, there's usually an 'off-duty' lamp on the side panels of the taxi.
  • If no lights are on, it means that the cab is on-duty but is full, which also means it is unavailable.

In rare events, an off-duty driver might pull over to see if they can take a passenger somewhere on their route home. If this happens, the cab will be 'on-duty' again during this time, and passengers might just get lucky!

Insider advice: Get in the taxi first, and then tell the driver what the destination is - this makes it less likely that they will turn down a route, as many opt not to leave Manhattan.

Knowing Directions When Getting Into A Taxi

Contrary to popular belief, it's not entirely necessary for a person - especially someone new to New York City - to know the exact address of a place. For example, if one is going to Central Park, oftentimes, the indication of north, south, east, or west is good enough. If one is visiting a tourist destination, such as the Intrepid Museum, 99% of the time, taxi drivers will know where to drop passengers off without an exact street corner address.

Many taxi cabs throughout New York City are now green rather than yellow. Visitors will still see the classic yellow cabs but shouldn't turn down a green one - they're just newer. Additionally, green taxis can be found via their corresponding app for smartphones, making it easy to nail down the location of one that's available.

Are Taxis In New York City Expensive?

The River Cafe under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, USA
The River Cafe under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, USA, one of the best restaurants in the US with the best views
  • Most taxi rides in New York City are not very expensive.
  • It's often more expensive to use Lyft or Uber while in the Big Apple.

This question is entirely dependent on where one plans to go. For example, taxi fares from JFK to Manhattan include a flat fee of $52 (not including tip). However, determining how expensive a taxi ride will be, means watching the meter and seeing where it ends as soon as a driver pulls over. The minimum taxi fare is $2.50, with the average price of a ride in Manhattan being somewhere around $10.

  • Fun Fact: It's a myth that taxis in NYC are absurdly expensive!

Related: 10 Cheap Things To Do In NYC (Under $10)

Tipping Cab Drivers In NYC

As with any other service that's provided by an expert, taxi drivers should also be tipped. Similar to dining in a restaurant, a good tip is considered to be between 10%-20%. It's not required, but it certainly is appreciated, especially if a cab driver was originally off-duty or goes out of their way to bring passengers to the other end of the city.

Use the Curb app to book a taxi in NYC up to 24 hours in advance.

Taxis Vs. Uber In NYC: Which Is Cheaper?

Priscilla Du Preez
Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash 
Using app to call an Uber
  • Uber is more expensive than riding in a taxi, most times.
  • A general rule of thumb is to use Uber for long NYC rides (it's cheaper).

There are pros and cons to each of these transportation options. For those familiar with Uber, an NYC taxi might seem archaic due to the fact that Uber tracks one's driver, can be booked through an app, and even gives an estimate of the cost of the trip. With that being said, Uber is often slightly more expensive, with an NYC city taxi averaging about $1.40 less, according to Free Tours by Foot.

Therefore, a general rule of thumb is to consider Uber during long trips and use a local NYC taxi for shorter trips. If affordability isn't an issue, then it comes down to whether one is comfortable physically hailing a cab or prefers to book a drive via an app, even if it is slightly more expensive.

Riding in one of New York City's iconic yellow (or green) taxis is an experience that every visitor should have at least once. Knowing how to hail one and what to expect in terms of costs will only make transportation in New York City that much easier.

What Hailing Apps Work In New York City?

View of a busy and crowded Times Square, New York City, USA
Photo by Victor He on Unsplash
View of a busy and crowded Times Square, New York City, USA

Sometimes it's just easier to order on a hailing app - that way; there's no awkward describing the directions to the drivers. There are plenty of hailing apps that are popular in the Big Apple, but the two most common are familiar to most people - Uber and Lyft. These are also arguably the best way to get around Las Vegas when visiting Sin City.

Ride-Hailing Market Share In NYC:

  • Uber: 73.1%
  • Lyft: 26.8%
  • Via: 0.02%

Uber in New York City offers a range of services, including pet-friendly rides, wheelchair-friendly rides, green rides, and more. Between Manhattan and JFK International Airports, it's even possible to book an Uber copter. But being the largest and most popular is not the same as being the cheapest. One advantage of using Lyft is that it uses a system of upfront fares, so passengers always know the price for requesting the ride.

Other hailing apps that work in NYC are Drivers Cooperative, Revel, Gravity, Curb, Myle, Arro, and Via. Alternatively, one can just use the very extensive New York subway system.

How Safe Are The Taxis In New York City?

Empire State Building NYC
Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash
An aerial view of Empire State Building in New York City
  • Overall, riding in a taxi in NYC will be safe.
  • Taxis are not often involved in accidents or receive complaints for safety from riders.

When it comes to the safety of riding in a taxi in New York City, these should be relatively safe for passengers and drivers. New York City cab drivers are required to undergo background and security screenings, as well as pass drug tests regularly. The historical data on accidents and issues in the city via cabs are low, with people being more safe in taxis than on the subway.

However, in 2021, it was reported that 802 medallion taxis were involved in crashes. Only one accident resulted in a fatality, so that is a very slim margin in the bigger scheme of things. Regardless, hailing a cab and staying safe while riding in one can be nerve-wracking: we get it.