By Markus Allen
Founder of

There's an art to catching a cab. Do it the right way and you get a fast cab on the cheap. Do it wrong, and you're probably going to get ripped off.

Are you ready to soak in my ultimate guide to catch a cab like a pro? Here we go:

The hail

In certain cities, cabs grow instantly scarce at certain times. For example in New York city, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. is the traditional hour for cabs to change shifts (and the number of active taxicabs on the streets plunges by at least 20%). Plan your travel to miss out on these scarce windows of time.

Most cabs use the lights on their roofs to signal availability...

... When the middle light is lit, it's in service and ready to pick you up. If all lights are on, the cab is off duty. If none of the lights are lit, the cab is in use by other customers. In some cities, the lighting system is simple - light is on, it's available. Light is off, the cab is not...

... With that said, not all cabbies adhere to the lighting system (especially in San Francisco) - some just keep flaggin' cabs until one picks 'em up.

In a growing number of cities (like Las Vegas and Cincinnati), it's illegal to hail a cab. Instead, you must call ahead or use a taxi stand.

Shy people have a harder time picking up a cab. Make sure to use direct eye contact.

The most effective way to hail a cab is to stick out your arm while you step off the curb and flash CASH in your hand. Also, stand on the street between parked cars near street corners. Cabbies almost always stop for the first hand they see, and you’ll cut off others waiting in the crowd (I know, I know - this is a bit sneaky).

Make a cabbie salivate - take along an empty carry-on bag... they'll think you're going to the airport (which guarantees a return fare).

Always stand on the side of the street in which the traffic is going in the direction you're looking to go. And if you can't get a cab on an avenue in the direction you're heading, walk a block over and try cabs coming the other direction.

Shape your hand (with cash between your fingers) as the letter "C" if you're taking a short trip. Cabbies love these as they're the most profitable fare.

Do you have a loud two-fingers-in-the-mouth whistle? If so, you might get cabbies to u-turn and pick you up.

If you're in New York, download the Cabsense App to your smartphone to help you find the best nearby street corners based on time and location.

And if you're striking out hailing a cab, head to the closest hotel... most have a taxi stand, and the staff there can raise a cab easier than you. Offer a $2.00 tip for the assistance.

If the lines at a taxi stand are too long, flag down the first cab stand attendant you see and ask for a taxi equipped with a credit card reader - they'll often let you hop the line and go straight to the front.

Be alert - the unspoken rule is the person (or group) waiting for a cab get "firsties." And if you delay, someone behind you can sneak in.

By the way, you don't hail taxis at transportation centers (like airports or train stations). These have taxi stands for your convenience. When you grab a cab from a transportation center into the city, it's always a pre-negotiated flat rate (by law). Make sure to confirm this at the beginning of the fare.


The approach

Be coy about your destination until you're in the cab. Get into the cab first, shut the door and then tell them where you are headed...

... By law, they must take you within pre-approved counties. If you volunteer a long distance before you're in the cab, they might drive off (especially if the cabbie is nearing the end of a shift). One tactic cabbies use is to turn off their “off duty” lights on roll up and ask where you're going. This is so they can refuse to take you somewhere since they are technically off duty (and you're looking to take a long drive in the other direction).

Never ever give the exact destination. This is for your safety. Although the vast majority of cabbies are legit', a few bad apples might size you up and decide to stalk you. Instead, give the names of the intersection of the place you're going.

If you're making multiple stops, let the driver know from the start.


The fare

Paying with cash makes cabbies happy. Paying by credit card makes cabbies angry, because they're forced to pay an extra surcharge (although recent laws force cabs to include a credit card reader).

If you must pay by credit card, advise the cabbie when the journey starts (although the vast majority of cabbies will say the credit card reader is broken).

And most cabbies claim not to have change, so enter a cab with the exact amount of the fare.


The ride

A cab car has a maximum occupancy of 4 passengers (by law). But if you have a larger group, hail down a minivan cab - some can hold 7 legally. With that said, most minivan cabs can't be hailed - they can only be reserved over the phone (or the Internet).

Small children who can sit in a passenger's lap don't count toward the cab's capacity limit.

Once you're in the cab, agree on the price beforehand. This could save you a bundle.

In some cities, rates increase when the sun goes down. Try to time your ride when the sun is shining to save money.

A free way to pass along appreciation to your cabbie is to turn off the cab's TV. They hear the same messages over and over again and (silently) appreciate you turning it off.

If traveling solo, sit in the front seat and strike up a conversation with the cabbie. Their stories are LEGENDARY. And if you recognize the cabby's native tongue, speak it - they usually LOVE it when you talk their language.


The destination

Always exit the cab curbside - it's the safest way. (Enter curbside, too - failing to do so can get the driver fined.) And open your door S L O W L Y - the sidewalk often doubles as a bike lane.

The typical tip is 15% of the total fare here in the States. Add a buck or two for each piece of luggage. Surprisingly, tipping is unheard of in many countries.



If it's raining, you're toast - find another mode of transportation.

Stay far away from unregistered cabs - they tend to rip you off. Official cabs have their ID on display and two license plates (front and back). And legitimate license plates usually begin with the letter "T".

For safety reasons (especially in some nefarious countries), "kidnapping" is common. If you're a dude and follow the FILO principle (i.e. first in, last out), you'll always be in the cab when she is (and won't have to be concerned about this).

Cabbies are the best at helping you find cheap, good eats.

P.S. Have a look at my other investigations, videos and podcasts and get the real truth about life...

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