To me, New York cab drivers have become increasingly crabby over the last few years. It began with the installation of the TVs in the back, which came with GPS and credit card machine. Most seemed to be upset with the percentage cut taken by the credit card system but one night four years ago, a paranoid driver went on for the entire ride from Gramercy to Battery Park city about conspiracies and being followed. Out of principle, some would refuse payment completely and say their machine was broken. Then there was the time my friend Diana got held hostage by her cabbie while he called the police. He insisted the receipt always said “Tip and Total” but it didn’t this time. Ironically, she had given him a particularly great tip since he helped her acquire her lost wallet earlier, but when she left the cab he chased after her and dragged her back into the taxi and locked the doors. When the police arrived, they took one look and asked, “Can she leave now?”
But I’ve also had just as many nice cab drivers. There have been the ones that ask about your life and tell you about theirs, they give you little historical tidbits about Manhattan. There was the one that played a hilarious joke on me at 4am as I sat dazed from having just driven 30 hours straight from Texas with my band. I asked for Amsterdam and 66th and he replied with, JFK? Which terminal? KLM to Amsterdam? He kept this gag up for a few minutes until I was visibly confused, and then I had to admit it was pretty funny. He also turned out to know exactly which building my apartment was, some of the famous people that lived there (Wynton Marsalis) and moonlighted at night as a taxi driver mostly for fun. Bryce Longton sent in this video of her amazing cabbie and writes, “On my 30th birthday, I hailed a cab at 2/3 in the AM to go home, and I got the HAPPY CABBIE. For real. And yes, the song in the video is the song he was blasting when he stopped. This guy is so much fun.” As clear from the YouTube comments, he is beloved by everyone who gets in his cab.
But this post is inspired by my last recent experience in a taxi, which got me wondering about the proper etiquette for tipping. Granted, I was ill (food-poisoning from a cross-Atlantic flight) so I was not in the best mindset. I’m usually a die-hard AirTrain rider to/from JFK Airport, but I was genuinely concerned I wouldn’t make it home in one piece. As the taxi jerked along erratically, I realized we were on a a completely local route. 20 minutes later, thanks to GoogleMaps, I saw we had not progressed too far from JFK. When we finally made it to my place, I gave him a $4 tip because I was irritated by the time it took and his driving non-skills. He withheld the receipt in order to lecture me for several minutes, telling me paranoid facts about the credit card machine that I know are not true, and then as I walked into my front door, he rolled down his window and yelled “NEXT TIME TIP BETTER!” I won’t repeat what I yelled back, but suffice to say I had to apologize to my doorman for being so crass. I knew that $4 was cheap (for this fare it was just under 10%) but it was to make a point: he hadn’t helped me with my luggage picking me up or dropping off, he took an extremely slow route through Queens without explaining why and he was not very pleasant in general.
But I felt a real pang of guilt for not tipping well. So I went out to a wide range of New Yorkers (from artists to investment bankers) about their tipping etiquette. 40 people responded, which is a 56% response rate. The results were varied but there were some distinct consistencies.
Percentage or $ amount?: 59% give a percentage and 41% give a dollar amount, but 1/3 of those that give 15% also stand by the “round up and add $1 rule.”
15%/Round up and add a $1: Going by numbers, this is the most frequent rule, done by 44% of responders. If you include the 15-20%-ers and the 20%-ers, you have a clear majority of 68%. So, when in doubt 15%-20% is safe.
$1 below $10, $2 above $10: 13% of people preferred this rule, with an additional 10% always giving $1 no matter the fare and 5% giving $2 always.
Airports: The responses varied from $3, to $4-5, to $7-8. One person responded gave a tiered response–with $5 for Laguardia and Newark, $7-8 for JFK, and another with a flat rate of 10%.
Bonus: Several mentioned that they give extra if going outside the borough, if the ride was particularly long, if work was paying, if the cabbie was helpful with baggage or if the bill was small. Some gave more if using credit card, but this wasn’t across the board.
And as New Yorkers, the responders were more than ready to give mean cabbies a piece of their mind if warranted (driver fell asleep while driving, almost got into car accident or driving in circles) and conversely, helpful, nice, fun or interesting cabbies were given generous tips.
The newest crabby cabbie protest is over the mayor’s proposal to legalize livery cabs in the outer boroughs. I’m cool with it because of my first-hand struggle to get yellow cabs in the more non-trafficked parts of Brooklyn and the times I’ve been refused by a Manhattan cabbie to go to the other boroughs. I was even once lectured that I should take the subway instead. That’s like AT&T telling me to go to Verizon to get my phone fixed (which happened, and why I’ve been with Verizon for the last 7 years). What do you think? And do you agree with the tipping etiquette we’ve found? Have a great or horrific story to share?