I was in New York City recently, enjoying the bustle and energy that only the Big Apple around the holidays can offer. Everywhere I looked there were people – tourists straining their necks at the tall buildings, sharply dressed business people leaving work, and millions of other residents coming and going. Some walked, some took the subway, but a large number of them were flagging down taxis. Surveying the crazed traffic around Grand Central Station, it looked like there were yellow cabs everywhere, an army of worker bees in a busy hive.
I was lucky enough to find a free taxi right before it started to rain, and hopped in the cushy back seat before the driver sped off. But soon, we were standing still in rush hour gridlock. With nothing but time on our hands, I started chatting with the driver, a nice fella who was originally from Vietnam but had lived in New York and driven a cab for more than 30 years.
I asked him plenty of questions about the city and which tourist destinations were worth seeing before I got to the quizzical matter that was really on my mind: where the heck did taxi drivers go the bathroom? So on the rest of the stop-and-go, honking ride, he filled me in on life as a taxi driver in New York City.
All about those taxicabs.
-There are actually two classifications of taxis operating in New York City, differentiated by color.
-Medallion taxis are painted canary yellow and can operate and pick up passengers anywhere in the five Burroughs.
-Taxis that are apple green are called street hail livery vehicles and hit the streets starting August of 2013. They are allowed to pick up fares in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens (excluding LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport), and Staten Island.
-There are currently 13,605 taxicab medallion licenses (yellow cabs) in New York. They still operate the license and medallion system based on the act introduced by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in 1937.
-In case you didn’t know, if a taxi’s rooftop light it out, it has a passenger already. If the center light is on, then it’s available. But when the outside lights on either side of the center light are on, it’s off duty.
-Private companies own and operate all taxicabs. They are all licensed and regulated by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
-Taxicabs must have a medallion to operate, which is displayed on the hood.
-There are a limited number of these medallions available, and they’re sold by the city at auctions or less frequently by owners who are retiring or moving on.
-It’s now estimated that to obtain a taxicab medallion and get the vehicle on the street, it costs over $1 million.
-There are different makes and models of vehicles approved for taxi use, but as of August 2013, the contract for new builds went to Nissan for their NV200.
-The new design for the NV200 includes room for four passengers, a transparent roof panel, an interior odor filter, antimicrobial fabric on the seats, mobile charging stations and USB ports.
-In compliance with national disability access laws, they are retrofitting or building new taxis with wheelchair access mechanisms.
-About 59% of the taxis on the streets of New York are hybrid taxis that partially operate on electric batteries to save fuel and reduce emissions, which is the highest number of any city in North America.
-All taxis were ordered to be painted bright yellow in 1967 so they would be more visible and easy to recognize. Before that, they were often green or red.
-That same year, a bullet proof partition went up between driver and backseat in every taxicab.
Inside the life of taxi drivers.
-In 2014, there were 51,298 men and women licensed to operate medallion taxicabs. That’s a ratio of almost 4 drivers to every vehicle because of course they work in shifts.
-On average, drivers cover 180 miles per shift, which lasts 10 or 12 hours.
-Drivers can privately own the taxis but because of the high cost for a medallion, the majority lease them from the company who owns them.
-In fact, it’s estimated that 29% of medallion taxicabs are owner operated.
-There are a certain number of medallions reserved for private owner/operators so big companies and fleets can’t monopolize the industry completely.
-The most up-to-date statistics show that drivers take home $158 on average per shift.
-Drivers usually stay on the job for a long time, with 42% of all taxi drivers possessing at least 11 years of experience.
-The demographics of taxi drivers are constantly changing. Back in the 1960’s, more than 10% of all drivers were women. These days, women operate less than 1% of taxis.
-These days, 91% of all New York City taxi drivers are immigrants, with Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan the most frequent countries of origin.
-New York City cabbies do go through a process of education and testing before they’re approved the hit the road. Prospective drivers have to take a 40-hour class to learn geography, etiquette and conversational English to become certified drivers.
-In the U.S., taxi drivers are prohibited from using their cell phones, even using hands-free. Although that rule is largely ignored, there is a $200 fine for cabbies caught on their cell phone.
-Drivers are legally required to pick up the first and/or or closest passenger they encounter. They are prohibited from refusing service to someone based on their appearance or race or any other factors. The TLC regularly engages in undercover operations to weed out drivers who engage in racial profiling, take unauthorized fares, or violate any other rules.
-They also are not allowed to refuse a passenger’s request to be taken to any destination in the five boroughs, neighboring Westchester or Nassau, or Newark Liberty International Airport.
It's all about the passengers (and their fares).
-Every year, almost 300 million passengers ride in New York City taxicabs.
-Although tourists make up a large portion of these taxi passengers, local New Yorkers still ride the most. Manhattan resident ride in taxis 100 times per year on average and 71% of all taxi fares bring Manhattan residents around their own city.
-The average charge for a ride of 5 miles is estimated at $14.10 and entails a 5-minute wait.
-When you sit in a taxi, fares automatically begin at $2.50 (or $3.00 between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 am, and $3.50 during the peak weekday hours of 4:00–8:00 p.m.).
-The meter rolls based on four factors: tariff rate (time of day), initial meter drop, distance traveled and waiting time.
-The fare goes up 50 cents for each one-fifth of a mile traveled, every 50 seconds stopped in traffic or waiting for a passenger, or if the taxi is stuck in traffic (travelling under 12 miles an hour).
-Standard taxicabs carry a maximum of four passengers, and one additional child under seven years old allowed to sit on an adult’s lap.
-Taxi drivers can automatically add $50 to the fare if a passenger vomits in the back seat!
-There are actually blogs and websites that document the stories of the cabbies and rank their complaints about customers.
Here are the top ten cabbie complaints:
#1 Passengers get intimate in the backseat while driving.
#2 Passengers don’t turn down the high volume on the TV’s that plays automatically in the back seats (imagine listening to the same thing over and over for 12 hours, every day).
#3 Backseat driving.
#4: Passengers trying to squeeze four people in the back seat (only three are allowed).
#5 Asking the driver to “step on it” or get to the destination faster.
#6 Skipping out on the fare!
#7 Being unclear about the destination or making changes en route.
#8 Not tipping or even worse, complaining about tipping and then not tipping.
#9 Trying to talk an off-duty taxi driver into taking a passenger.
#10 Drunk passengers who cause drama and make a mess!
So now we know so much more about cab drivers and taxis in New York City, but are we forgetting something? Of course – we never answered the question “Where do drivers go to the bathroom?”
In New York there are actually taxi relief stands – small areas with 7 parking spaces where cabbies can pull over, warm up, get some coffee and a bite to eat, and yes, most of them even have bathrooms. Each driver can take refuge there for up to an hour before moving on, and in fact, there are 62 taxi relief stands in New York City, 45 of which are in Manhattan.
And where did taxi drivers go to the bathroom before these taxi relief stands were established? Trust me; you don’t want to know.