Yo! Taxi!

The ultimate guide to the perfect ride -- from the coolest cabbies we know.

Most business trips start with one. After the plane lands, there's another one. Along the way, you usually need at least one, maybe more. Another takes you back out to the airport. And one more takes you home.

Cab rides.

What business traveler hasn't had to endure the cab ride from hell?

Meters that run too fast. Drivers who go too slow.

Windows that won't roll down. Drivers who won't shut up.

Music you can't bear to listen to. Drivers who can't understand what you say.

Cabs that you can't find at rush hour. Drivers who seem to get lost when you're in a rush.

It's an all-too-familiar litany. But it doesn't have to be that way!

Imagine the business trip of the future: a clean cab; a competent driver; your choice of CDs; a cell-phone; easy credit-card payment. To help make it a reality, Fast Company interviewed nine cab drivers from nine major U.S. cities. Together they have driven cabs (most prefer driving a Chevy Caprice) for 152 years, logged more than 16 million career miles, been involved in 27 accidents and accounted for 40 tickets, and won a handful of awards, including an Emmy and two International Taxicab and Livery Association Driver of the Year Awards.

Herbert "Shorty" Jones

Age: 72

Company: Yellow Cab Co. of Houston City: Houston

  • Award: 1994 International Taxicab and Livery Association's Taxicab Services Driver of the Year n philosophy: "I drink a lot of water and I do get my rest."
  • How to avoid a bad cab ride: "Call a cab, don't flag one. Avoid the flaggers, because you might flag any kind of driver." common complaint: "Cab drivers that don't take you directly to your destination. Cab drivers who smoke too much. Some drive too fast."
  • Best remedy: "Get the cab driver's number and report him to whichever company he works for."
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "I have a cell-phone that passengers can use, and I take the five major credit cards. I also have a slim jim if a person has locked his keys in his car and booster cables if your battery's down."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "About $32."
  • Policy on tips: "If it's a downtown trip, which is $32, most just give you $40."
  • One last tip: "I'll do anything to satisfy a passenger. If you satisfy them, and they've got a satisfied mind when they get out of the car, that's a better tip."

Raymond J. Suges (Ray St. Ray, The Singing Cab Driver)

Age: Over 30

Company: Yellow Cab Co. of Chicago City: Chicago

  • Award: 1995 International Taxicab and Livery Association's Taxicab Services Driver of the Year
  • Philosophy: "Keep your karma clean. What goes around, comes around. If you want nice rides, be a nice person. Attitude is everything."
  • How to avoid a bad cab ride: "The condition of the car. If you see a bunch of cabs and one's really clean, that's an indication that the guy who drives it takes care of his vehicle, probably takes care of himself, and will probably take care of you."
  • How to hail a cab at rush hour: "The best way is to have some luggage. If you've got luggage, that will get people fighting over you."
  • If you hail a cab and don't like the looks of it: "If you stick your head in the window and it stinks or the seats are all ripped up or the guy looks like a psychotic, you don't have to get in, and you don't have to stay in. You just say, 'Sorry, I'll get a different cab.'"
  • Common complaint: "Rude. Don't know where they're going. Filthy cabs."
  • Best remedy: "Take the driver's name and complain to the city. The reason people get crap cab rides is because people don't complain. If everyone complained, then the city would have to crack down. Drivers who got three or four complaints wouldn't be on the streets anymore."
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "It's a competitive business and you've got to have a gimmick. Mine is that I'm a native born Chicagoan, I speak English, and I even know where we're going. And I'm a performer. Every day I sing to 10, 20, or 30 people. I'm the cab driver everybody in the world wishes they could get."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "It will cost you about $22 to $25, depending on traffic and where you're going exactly."
  • One last tip: "They're not supposed to smoke. They're not supposed to play loud music if you don't want to hear it. That's the law."

Ralph Napoleoni

Age:30

Company: Owns four cabs City: New York City

  • Award: Emmy award for "Taxi Cab Confessions" on HBO
  • Philosophy: "When in New York City, live each day as if it were your last. Because you just might get run over by a cab."
  • How to avoid a bad cab ride: "If you want a nice tranquil ride, look at the car. It says everything about the driver."
  • How to hail a cab at rush hour: "When you see a cab approaching somebody, you run across the street and push them out of the way. You scream at them, 'I've been waiting here for 20 minutes.' Then jump in. Or you could share with somebody."
  • Best places to get a cab in New York: "In front of hotels or at taxi stands. Or the exit ramps off the FDR Drive at 49th Street or 53rd Street and 1st. You're more apt to catch a cab where traffic is coming into the city like at the 59th Street Bridge near 2nd Avenue."
  • Common complaint: "Taxi drivers in New York City don't know how to communicate very well."
  • Why cab drivers have bad reps: "They're a bunch of crabby people. You're in a stressful environment -- you have to deal with the public, and there's a lot of people constantly nagging. You have to be a chameleon."
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "I keep over 100 CDs in the cab. I have a cell-phone that takes every major credit card. And the driver speaks English and knows where he's going."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "To midtown Manhattan, the ride should not be over $30, including tolls. With no traffic it should be $16 to $17 with tolls."
  • Policy on tips: "I never tip for bad service -- you only encourage it. If you get decent service coming into midtown, give the guy $3."
  • One last tip: "Stand out there like the Statue of Liberty, with your hand way up in the air."

For Hire: Tales from the Front Seat

Joseph Smith

Age: "Older than dirt, three days younger than water"

City:Washington, DC

  • Philosophy: "Try to help when you can, and try not to hurt anybody unnecessarily."
  • How to avoid a bad cab ride: "Get in the car without an attitude. When the passenger has an attitude, the driver gets an attitude."
  • Common complaint: "Being ripped off. We have a zone system and most people can't read the map, including some drivers."
  • Why cab drivers have bad reps: "We're kind of like the last outlaws, the pirates of the Caribbean."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "Between $12 and $15 depending on where you're going."
  • Policy on tips: "If you can, 10%."

Fred Kamm

Age: 55

City: Denver

  • Philosophy: "I'm related to everybody. It's a Zen thing."
  • How to hail a cab at rush hour: "Some cities you can hail a cab. Denver isn't one."
  • If you don't want to talk to the driver: "Just tell the driver, 'Hey, I've got some business stuff to be thinking about, so I need a little peace and quiet.'"
  • Cost from the airport to downtown: "Downtown runs $36."
  • One last tip: "If you've never been to Denver before and the driver asks you if you have ever been to Denver before, the answer is, `Yes.' You don't want to announce to the driver that you just fell off a melon truck."

Don Mitchell

Age: 48

City: Los Angeles

  • Philosophy: "I don't like to get spiritual with it, but my philosophy is the three Ds -- desire, determination, and dedication."
  • Common complaint: "The driver is discourteous. The driver overcharges on the fare."
  • Why cab drivers have bad reps: "They're discourteous and they overcharge."
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "It's a state-of-the-art vehicle. Clean inside and out."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "There's a flat rate posted on all cabs -- $24 from the airport and a $2.50 surcharge."
  • Policy on tips: "To indicate your displeasure, give the driver a dime -- you'll be sending a message."

Andrew D. Walker

Age: 65

City: Detroit

  • Philosophy: "Don't doubt yourself. You can do what you think you can do."
  • How to avoid a bad cab ride: "The condition of the cab will reflect the cab driver and the company."
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "You can get where you want to get faithfully."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "It runs about $28."
  • Policy on tips: "When you drive a while, you don't expect a tip. It's not like a restaurant."

Paul Crutcher

Age: 31

City: New Orleans

  • Philosophy: "Stay on the path of righteousness and the Lord will take care of me."
  • How to avoid a bad cab ride: "If you approach a cab stand with cabs in a line, you do not have to take the first one."
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "No rips or tears. A very nice stereo. I have a cell-phone for my passengers. I know the city like the back of my hand. My vehicle is in excellent mechanical condition."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "For one or two people, $21 flat rate. For three or more, it goes up to $8 per person."

Barry Connor

Age: 54

City: Seattle

  • Philosophy: "It's a charm and a pleasure living here."
  • How to hail a cab at rush hour: "This is such an un-taxi town -- very few people flag a taxi here. "
  • Benefits of riding in his cab: "Efficient, safe, professional ride."
  • Cost from airport to downtown: "The average fare to Microsoft and Nintendo is about $35. Downtown Seattle is hovering at $30."

Sidebar: "Take a Tip from Me ... "

  1. Always check to see if the driver has an identification card -- and that the photo on it matches the driver.
  2. Always look for the cab number -- and don't hesitate to complain to the cab company or city transportation department if the ride doesn't measure up.
  3. Before the trip begins, let the driver know you're going to want a receipt -- it's a signal you won't stand for getting ripped off.
  4. Count the dents on the side of the cab -- the car says everything about the driver.
  5. To hail a cab, stand at the corner, not in the middle of the block. (If you've got luggage, cabs will fight over who gets to pick you up.)
  6. After you hail a cab, you're not obligated to get in -- if you don't like the looks of the car or driver, you can blow it off.
  7. During rush hour, the easiest place to find a cab is at a hotel.
  8. In a line of cabs, you don't have to take the first one -- you can pick out the car and driver you want.
  9. The person paying for the cab is the boss -- if you don't want to talk, inhale the driver's smoke, or listen to the radio, just say so.

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