hail a cab

29 ways to hail a cab like the pros do in the United States

There is 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 are probably going to get ripped off.

Here is my ultimate guide to catch a cab like a pro:


Avoid bad times

In some cities, rates increase when the sun goes down.

Try to time your ride when the sun is shining to save money.

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 this is when the number of active taxicabs on the streets plunges by at least 20%.

It is best to avoid traveling during these scarce windows of time.


Mastering the old-fashioned lighting system

A growing number of taxis use a display system to show availability.

But the rest continue to use the old color system…

… When the middle light is lit, it is in service and ready to pick us 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 is available. When the light is off, the cab is not available…

With that said, not all cabbies adhere to the lighting system. This is especially true 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 is illegal to hail a cab.

Instead, we must call ahead or use a taxi stand.

Location. Location. Location.

Eye contact is CRUCIAL.

Also, use cash as bait…

Stick our your arm while you step off the curb with cash visible 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 will cut off others waiting in the crowd.

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.

Always stand on the side of the street in which the traffic is going. If this is not an option, walk a block over and try cabs coming the other direction.

If you can whistle loud, cabbies might u-turn and pick you up.

If you are in New York, download Cabsense to your smartphone. This app finds you the best nearby street corners based on time and location.

Take along an empty carry-on bag. Taxi drivers are going to think you are headed to the airport (which guarantees a return fare).


Pro tips

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

Striking out? No problem. Head to the closest hotel. Most have a taxi stand, and the staff there can raise a cab easier than you. (You might offer a $2.00 tip for the help.)

Line too long at a taxi stand? You might flag down the first cab stand attendant you see and ask for a taxi equipped with a credit card reader. They will often let you hop the line and go straight to the front.

By the way, you do not 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 is always at a pre-negotiated, flat rate (by law). Make sure to confirm this at the beginning of the fare.



Be coy about your destination until you are in a 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 are in the cab, they might drive off. This is especially true when 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 are going. They do this to refuse to take you somewhere (since they are technically off duty).

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 are going.

If you are making many stops, let the driver know from the start.


The fare

Paying with cash makes cabbies happy.

When paying by credit card, cabbies are forced to pay an extra surcharge.

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 at most an 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 cannot be hailed. They can only be reserved over the phone (or the Internet).

Small children who can sit in a passenger’s lap do not count toward the cab’s capacity limit.

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

Free gratuities

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 is 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.

An average 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 outside the U.S.


Bonus tips

If it is raining, you are 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). Legitimate license plates usually begin with the letter “T”.

For safety reasons (especially in some nefarious countries), “kidnapping” is common…

If you are a dude and follow the FILO principle (i.e. first in, last out), you will always be in the cab when she is (and will not have to be concerned about this).

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

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Markus Allen

Family man. Truth seeker. Life hacker... more about me here...


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