Thursday, May 17, 2012

MODERN ETIQUETTE II:  Since y'all raised it yesterday, let's have at it -- what is the proper tipping level for a taxi ride?  I typically pay cash, and I typically round up to the next dollar for a fare under $9 -- $6.XX means I want the guy to have $8.00, $8.XX means $10.00, etc. For fares over $9, I'll round it up higher.

I strongly disagree with Isaac's assertion that because "a cab driver who takes you a very short distance has lost the fare and tip from a longer ride," you should give the guy $10 for a $7.20 cab ride. To me, as long as the driver is taking me somewhere where he can pick up his next fare quickly (and he can if he's taking me home), he gets to grab another $2.70 flag drop (+ $1.25 temporary fuel surcharge) and keep the revenues high.  Now, this may be a Phila v. LA thing -- other than airport trips ($28.50 flat fee, and I'll usually give the guy $34-$35 depending on bags handled), Philadelphia cab drivers don't do a lot of long trips to the suburbs because our commuter rail system does a good job of getting those folks home.  It's mostly intra-downtown transit.  But YMMV.

added.sunstein.nudge.nudge.nudge: Setting the default tip percentages for NYC taxis accepting credit cards to 20%, 25%, and 30% has raised the average tip from roughly 10% to 22%, generating $144,146,165 per year in additional tips.


  1. I think you nail the key difference between LA and NY/Philly/DC that justifies higher tip in the former location--the ability to quickly and immediately grab a new fare.  Most cities, that initial flag drop segment is by far the most lucrative, and cabbies want as many of those as they can.  In fact, some cabbies aren't hugely fond of airport trips because while they'll be able to get a fare there, they have to turn around and get in the pickup line to do so, which, at some times, can be an hour + wait to actually get the flag drop.

    I use black cars like Carmel and Dial 7 for most airport trips where I'm taking a cab/car because of the flat rates giving certainty, which exist only for trips to JFK in a yellow cab.  I'll also give a shoutout to Uber, which I've used a couple of times--yes, you pay about 20% more than a yellow cab, but when it's rainy or there's a massive line for a cab, certainty is a good thing.

  2. Maggie8:43 AM

    Because many of my cab rides involve going from DC to Virginia, I tend to overtip (usually $8-10 on $10-15 fare) because the DC cab driver is prohibited from picking up a return fare in VA.  However, if the driver gives me atttitute about heading to VA or drives crazy because he's pissed he has to cross the river, I start mentally reducing the tip.  Shorter trips in DC totally depend on what I have in my wallet because I don't like asking for $1 change.  If I don't have ones then, a short ride is usally going to get to keep the change off a $10.

  3. sconstant8:45 AM

    Philadelphia cab drivers don't do a lot of long trips to the suburbs because our commuter rail system does a good job of getting those folks home.

    I'd sub in "because people park their cars at the airport or arrange car services or whatnot."    

  4. That, too, but I was thinking more about work-related travel from Center City.  Under what circumstances does a suburban commuter decide to take a taxi instead of Regional Rail?

  5. Paul Tabachneck10:02 AM

    Since moving to New York, I've lived in two outer-borough areas (Astoria and Sunset Park), and that has taught me to tip according to the quality of my cabbie's honesty.  

    I'm not great at dictating to my cab drivers, partly because I've never driven in New York, and partly because if I'm taking a cab, it usually means I'm compromised and don't want to fall asleep on the subway and wake up in Coney Island.  Some cabbies take this as an opportunity to take crazy ways around and up my fare (one, when I was living in Astoria, convinced me that the BQE was the way to go if I wanted to get home quickly -- it took the same amount of time, and my fare was spiked a lot higher with bridge tolls).  Those guys get tipped less than the guys that get me home with a fare under $20.  

    For short fares, I tip a straight 25%.

  6. christy in nyc10:26 AM

    Cab tipping is a bit more wild west for me than waitstaff tipping. I almost always pay in cash, so the credit card default options don't really affect my thinking, and I'm trying to do math on the fly in my head. So the numbers vary pretty wildly.

    The #1 thing that gets a good cab tip from me is, like Maggie, lack of complaining. Living in Queens I don't get it as bad as my Brooklyn pals, from what I've heard, I think because cabbies are way more likely to be from Queens themselves. But I live in sort of a weird little corner that takes some direction. Most cabbies don't complain at all. A little grumbling gets a normal but not great tip, as long as it doesn't last long. Any kind of real arguing and YOU ARE DEAD TO ME

    Like for instance just the other night a cab took me home and it looked like the traffic heading back into the city was HORRIBLE but the driver didn't complain at all so I gave him a good tip.

  7. Christy in Philly10:40 AM

    I take a cab more often then I should (for instance, when I was running late for work this morning). I never just round up to the next dollar. My trip this morning was $6.60. I gave him $8. It's a ridiculous tip but I'm lazy and I'm grateful I don't have his job. Also, b/c I live in a building where taxis often wait outside to pick folks up in the AM, some of the drivers have started to recognize me.

    I never want to be known as the lady who lives in the fancy building and is a lousy tipper. (for the record, I am a renter in a condo building where most of the owners are two-three times my age and annual salary). I tip delivery guys too much, too.

  8. isaac_spaceman10:41 AM

    I'm going to stand by my initial comment.  Maybe it has nothing to do with the length.  I guess my threshold for asking for change is $2.  I am literally never going to ask a cab driver for $1 in change.   If that means I give a $2.80 tip on a $7.20 fare, so be it. 

  9. sconstant10:43 AM

    Ah, you're right, I don't know why I was in full-on airport mode, but I was.  In my experience, a suburban commuter decides that when it's really late and the trains are coming infrequently and dammit, I just want to go home. 

  10. I also live in Queens, and any grumbling about going to Queens automatically reduces the tip for me. I'm sick of hearing it - they complain about going on long rides, they complain about going on short rides, they complain about having to go anywhere out of Manhattan. I live about 20 blocks from the 59th Street Bridge - it's not like I asked them to go to the far reaches of the borough. (And even if I did - it's their job.)  Sorry that you can't get a fare back, but you know why that is? Because people in Queens are so used to NOT being about to find a cab that they've found other ways to go.

    I tend to do as Adam says: round up a dollar and change for fares under $10, round up $2 and change for fares under $20, etc.  If the fare is around the $16 - $17 range, I'll just round up to $20.  And I definitely tip more for a nice ride: quiet (no loud talking on a cell phone or refusing to turn down the radio), not driving like a maniac, knowing how to get to my area.

  11. Paul Tabachneck10:45 AM

    For the record, I took a cab in DC last summer, and holy crap.  Extra fees for everything!

  12. I face the Isaac issue a lot, because my office is near a few hotels, and I generally get my cabs there.  They wait in a line and really want the fare to Dulles (or National).  Many of them get visibly upset when I get in (to the first cab in the line) from the street, which is perfectly legal.  Some of them straight-out lie, telling me they can't take me or that they are waiting for a specific passenger.  Last week (when I was on my way to have lunch with Matt, Maggie, Ted, and Genevieve, as it happens), the cabbie yelled at me, and I stood my ground, just repeating the address of my destination.  Then he drove like a total asshole to get there, making sure to be clear how displeased he was.  The fare turned out to be something like $9.80, and I gave him $10, telling him that, even after the argument at the origination point, I would have tipped him normally if he hadn't been a jerk in the car.

    Normally, though, if I get one of these cabs and am not going very far, I definitely do tip extra to make up (a little bit) for the fact that they lost out on their gamble, and got someone going closeby rather than to an airport.

  13. Asking because I really have never thought about it:  Cabbies make a good hourly wage right?  I assume it's not like wait staff, who I know rely on tips to make up the difference between substandard and living-wage.  So yes, a driver who gave attitude about having to take me one place vs. another, that's a problem.  Because it is their job.

    And, I suppose I haven't been paying by card in a NYC cab in a while.  The lowest tip possible is 20%?  Does this mean it's 0% or 20%, no in-between, or does everyone get an automatic 20% tip added, like with a large party in a restaurant?

  14. Actually, my understanding (perhaps totally wrong) was that cabbies were essentially independent contractors, paid only out of the monies they collect on the road (presumably with some money going to the company, and perhaps some going for use of the car itself).  Put crassly, I thought it was basically the model we all associate with prostitutes working for pimps.  

  15. Anonymous11:36 AM

    It's not that it's impossible to leave lower than 20% - you can always type in your own tip amount (not by percent, but by dollar).  It's just that the shortcut buttons (which I'm sure most people use because why do math and type 3 numbers when you can just push one button) are set to 20-25-30.

  16. christy in nyc11:36 AM

    I always wonder if they're annoyed when I get in at JFK and want to stay in Queens, meaning more like a $25 fare rather than a guaranteed flat $45 fare. But I've never had them complain at JFK. I've had them confused about how to get to my house from JFK, but they never seem pissed that I'm not going to Manhattan. Maybe they're just used to it being a roll of the dice. Or maybe they're just glad I'm not going to Brooklyn.

  17. christy in nyc11:59 AM

    I think a reasonably competent NYC cabdriver would make what most people would consider a solid living even if everyone stopped tipping (as long as they kept taking cabs). So it's very different from waiting tables in that sense.

    But another way it's different from waiting tables is that the biggest risk you're undertaking to wait a table is wasting your time. A cabdriver takes on a pretty huge initial financial risk, then continues to navigate other fluctuating financial risks (fuel prices, weather, car maintentence), with other kinds of personal risks (crime, car accidents, mental and physical health from driving around all the damn time). For that I'm willing to follow convention and pay a little more, especially when the service is good. And when they actually know how to get to my house without extra direction, I kind of want to marry them.

  18. Maggie12:11 PM

    I think your impression is correct at least for the DC area.  I do volunteer tax prep and our cab driver clients are mostly self employed. Some own their cars, some do not, but the ones I've seen are not making a solid living (although that is probably a function of te income limitations of the program I volunteer with).

  19. I live really close to O'Hare. I'm about 15 minutes away, if there's no traffic on the Kennedy. One of the first times I tried to get a cab from the Taxi Stand, the driver found out where I was going, threw my suitcase on the ground and took off. I try to avoid them as much as possible now and pay the extra for a car service. They're always on time. The cars don't smell. And there's no weird, passive-aggressive behavior from the front seat.

  20. Christy - I live about ten minutes from LaGuardia, and when we take a cab from the airport, the cabbie gets a "short fare" ticket from the guy who runs the taxi stand. It lets him cut the waiting line when he comes back to the airport to pick up another fare.  So they don't seem annoyed by having to go a short ride within Queens.  I wonder if they don't do the same thing at JFK?

  21. christy in nyc1:21 PM

    Oh yeah they probably do. I've never even thought about what those ticket thingies meant.

  22. Russ has it correct, as I understand it.  Basically. someone owns the medallion, and the drivers pay the owner a fee to have the car for that shift, and make what they make.

  23. Becca1:30 PM

    This is very helpful for me, since I don't do a lot of tipping in cabs, unless I'm visiting NY. I've lived in LA since 1997, and I've taken a cab here exactly once, from the Burbank airport to where my car was parked at my friend's house in Burbank, like, 5 minutes away. The driver didn't know the address at all, and kept asking me where to turn, which did not inspire confidence. In LA, let's be honest. If I can't drive my own car there, park it somewhere reasonably priced, and then drive myself home whenever I'm ready, then I'm really not interested in going. Which is why I don't invite people over to my apartment. 

    But I would be curious to know how the cab-hailing pilot program is going. I haven't seen any reports on it lately. 

  24. isaac_spaceman1:35 PM

    Oh, geez, being a cabbie sucks.  I've heard from a million cab drivers that the first eight hours in a shift is usually just to pay off the rent on the car and the medallion, and they only make their take-home money in the last four.  Maybe this is just tip-begging, but the job still sucks.  I'm not aware of any cabbies getting any hourly wage. 

  25. Marsha1:39 PM

    Sue, that's a really great system (having never lived in Queens, I've never heard of it before now). Makes perfect sense - the airport wants to avoid scenes, the city wants everyone to be friendly to the passengers, and this eliminates one of the big problems cabbies have with taking people to a closeby destination. Genius.

  26. Rebecca2:45 PM

    <span>I live in Brooklyn, but within "short fare" distance from LaGuardia. I'm also very blond and could pass for 20 or so, this means that cab drivers are always really, really nice to me, but refuse to believe that I know where I live. "X" St. is different from "X" Ave. One of them will get me to my house, one of them will not. Every time I come back from the airport, there's an extra three minutes on my trip because they choose not to follow my directions.</span>

  27. Rebecca3:20 PM

    <span><span>Wow, I keep posting things and having to delete them due to very stupid mistakes today. I should not be allowed to type.</span></span>

    Question: If somebody is doing the thing where his off duty lights are on and he's looking for a cab in a specific direction, I never attempt to hail, because I'm going to BK and rejection hurts, you know. However, sometimes these guys will just pull up unsolicited and ask me where I'm going, and I'm close enough that they'll take me, but give me a lecture on how they have to get the cab back at such and such a time to such and such a place. They stopped for me, I told them where I was going before getting in (which I'm totally aware you don't have to do) and the geographic reality is I'm not inconveniencing them at all, but I still end up adding $2 to the already over 20% tip I normally leave. I like to tip well, but am I getting taken advantage of?

    Also, about three months ago, I had a cab driver who refused to let me pay for my ride ($12). It was The Best. He wasn't a creeper. This is not specifically relevant to this conversation, but I spend so much time complaining about them that I feel like I should tell my "sometimes cab drivers are awesome" story every chance I get.

  28. As a car owner in Brooklyn, I have regular debates with taxi drivers about the best way to get from point A to point B.  A cabbie who is willing to discuss and listen gets a generous tip.  A cabbie who dismisses my suggestions gets hurt on the tips, especially when I know he's taking a longer route.  Generally, it depends on the ride how I tip.  Cabbie generally like taking my fare because they will usually always get another fare and I'm not very far into Brooklyn. 

    The only real pattern I see is among cabbies is that they like to talk real estate.  I live (and have lived) in up-and-coming neighborhoods and the cabbies want to talk about the neighborhood, what's for sale, what's for rent, etc.  I've had a few turn off the meter a few blocks from my apartment so they can pick my brain about the neighborhood (I'm not in real estate, by the way).  It's very strange.

  29. gretchen3:36 PM

    After dealing with too many cabbies who grumbled about going to Brooklyn, I preemptively set expectations.  I get in the cab, say "Brooklyn," and the minute they start complaining, I say, "Look, I will tip you a lot more if you do not complain about going to Brooklyn."  It works beautifully.

  30. sknitting3:42 PM

    This is off-topic for both this thread, and yesterday's, so feel free to ignore:

    Haircuts! How much are you generally tipping?

    For context, the place I go is independently owned by two people - one of those people I believe just does the running-of-the-business stuff, and the other cuts/dyes/etc hair, along with two other people (including the person I see) who I assume rent their chairs there.

    I'm a woman with really short hair, so I'm generally in every 4-6 weeks to get it trimmed and have the back/sides buzzed, and my hairdresser is awesome and usually charges me the men's short hair price (since it's lower).  I occasionally have random colours put in, which takes a long time, and involves a few different steps, so on those appointments I've been tipping 20% (generally $20).  But what about the times I'm just getting a cut, it takes 20-30 minutes, and is (I think?) fairly simple?

    -slight, somewhat-relevant tangent-
    My hairdresser is also really friendly and chatty - but in a good/normal way and not the constant, forced-seeming, intimidating/awkward (to shy introvert me) way that some hairdressers do (which I assume is because it would be weird and awkward to be silent the whole time, obviously...)?  Which to me is great, and definitely slight tip increase-worthy - as in, I'm more likely to tip her well than I would be someone who made me feel really awkward.
    -end tangent-

    Now that I've given a weird amount of info on my hair/hairdresser - is there a general rule for haircut tipping? What is it? Is it some basic grown-up thing that everyone knows that I somehow missed out on along with learning to like coffee and wine?

  31. christy in nyc4:20 PM

    Agreed, but I think it sucks because of stress, not money. According to Adam's link, NYC cab drivers make almost twice the yearly median income for the city.

    (It's pretty much the very last profession I'd attempt, except maybe driving a cab in a different city. I HATE to drive).

  32. Emily W4:36 PM

    After years of bad haircuts from people who know nothing of curly hair, I found the best hairdresser ever. I swear, I will never let anyone else touch my hair, even when I move out of NYC. I will come back every few months just for him. 

    That said, he's SO good, I only have to go see him 3-4 times a year, tops (good thing, it's EXPENSIVE!). I generally tip my guy 20-25% (higher at the holidays), and then $8-10 for the young woman who shampoos my hair. No idea if that's what's "right", but it's what I am comfortable with. 

  33. Stress which includes the constant possibility of being robbed, or worse.

  34. Tomorrow?  And can we discuss the whole "tip the shampoo girl" thing?

  35. Joseph Finn4:47 PM

    20%, juist like any other service, rounded up if I would otherwise need to ask for change.  Less if the driver is incompetent, drives like a maniac, speeds excessively or the like.  More if they're helping me with bags and the like.

    Hairdressers get more, 25-30%, just because they're touching my hair.

  36. Jenn C4:51 PM

    I tend to "overtip" my hairdresser, to the tune of 40-50% depending on the time of year and the condition my hair is in.  Also, I do it so that if I need a last minute appt, I am more likely to get squeezed in. 

    My old hairdresser in Phily used to get 50% tips from me (I followed him from salon to salon until he opened his own--in the 7 years I saw him, he never charged me his current rate, always his old rate. Totally worth it to me to pay $60 for a good haircut and blowout).  

  37. Jenn C4:54 PM

    It's like Priceline when you take a cab in DC--you never know what you are going to pay.  My office is downtown, my doc's office is at Georgetown.  I had to make that trip weekly when I was pregnant--the variation on what I paid was about $5. 

  38. Watts5:14 PM

    Jeez, Finn, what's so nasty about your hair that it requires extra compensation?

  39. Does "etiquette rodeo" need to become a regular feature? 

  40. christy in nyc5:59 PM


  41. isaac_spaceman6:04 PM

    Plus having to know all of the answers to the quiz questions, and having to give away all your money if the passenger gets them right. 

  42. isaac_spaceman6:06 PM

    I overtip my barber because I don't want him to spit in my hair. 

  43. GinnaD7:23 PM

    Several years ago, I worked for a company that built part of the JFK Airtrain. Often I would arrive later at night, and head straight to the facility to go to work. (Most work happened overnight, when trains were available.) 

    The Airtrain facility is adjacent to JFK, but not accessible by Airtrain or bus. And it's a crazy, dangerous walk (Not far, but dark and no sidewalks). Which I couldn't do anyway, since I was usually loaded down with tools. 

    The fare was basically the minimum. TWICE I had cabbies force me out of the cab when they found out what my destination was. Once out into the snow! I finally made arrangements with a private car service to meet me. Cost more, but I made the case to my bosses. 

    It always puzzled me, since they WILL take you to airport hotels, which are almost as close by. But of course, they have cozy relationships with the hotels. 

  44. Renee9:44 PM

    Oh Isaac, I actually laughed out loud at your comment.  Awesome, awesome comment. 

  45. Isaac's waiter spat in it, obviously.

  46. Cabbies really still complain about BK?  I never get complaints....

  47. I won't talk to the off-duty guys anymore if they roll down their window to ask where I'm going.  Either let me in your cab or not.  Don't play me. 

  48. Rebecca1:13 PM

    KR we're definitely neighbors, and I get that a lot too. I'm also surprised at how often cab drivers have asked me, "Why do you live here and not Soho?" Why is that the choice? I don't spend a lot of time in Soho, but I feel like when I do, I'm generally trying to maneuver around a European tourist with short pants and a large shopping bag. It doesn't feel like my neighborhood at all.

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