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Taxi Tips

Monday, May 14, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

People seem to take cabs a lot more in Philly than any place else I've ever lived. Why is that, and what should I know about "cabbing it," including how much to tip?

Signed,
Taxi Tips

Dear Tips,

Philly is generally pretty easy to get around: It's small and walkable, and has reasonable parking and a lot of car sharing options. However, public transportation is fairly limited compared to a lot of cities, and even when your destination is, objectively-speaking, not so far away, sometimes a cab just makes sense. I spend a lot of time schlepping heavy items back and forth across the city for work, and as a result, I have a lot of good cab stories that may help you to, um, navigate the situation. Allow me to share:

Give drivers the benefit of the doubt: Sometimes cabbies will take you on a longer/slower route than you would have recommended and you may be suspicious as to their motives. Recently, though, I thought I was being taken for a ride (sorry, I can't help it), but actually, I learned a shortcut to my own house.
Tell the driver before you get in the cab if you'll be using a credit card: Cabs all have credit card machines in the back, but many drivers are reluctant to use them. I had a fare that turned out to be more expensive than I was anticipating, so I told the driver at the end of the trip that I had to pay with a card. He was very angry. I told him that the other option was to give him all the cash I had, which was $4 less than the total. He preferred to take the cash. Actually, I'm not sure what the lesson is here.
Share: I used to bake a couple hundred latkes for the Grad Network Chanukah party and then call a cab to get to the event. The smell of fried potato was so overwhelming that my husband passed a latke to the driver from the backseat.
Be aware of cultural differences: One of the heavy items I frequently transport is wine, as in multiple cases for big Grad Network events. A couple of years ago, I'd gotten the wine to the street and managed to flag down a cab at rush hour. As I started loading the trunk, the driver told me he was Muslim and couldn't transport alcohol.
Tip: My rule of thumb is to round up and add a dollar. If the driver helps you load/unload heavy items or is especially helpful or friendly in other ways, feel free to go higher. If he's rude or makes your ride unpleasant, use your discretion.
Call ahead: Even at random times, it can take a half hour or longer to get a cab to come to your front door. I really needed a cab once to get to a Sunday morning event, and the dispatcher gave me a 25-minute expected wait. Turns out the whole city was covered with a thin layer of ice and no one wanted to walk. But didn't they know I had somewhere to be?
Choose any company: Philly has a bizarre number of different cab companies. They're all essentially the same. Don't sweat it.
Ask for a receipt: If you are the kind of person who loses things in cabs, get in the habit of asking for a receipt. It'll give you extra time to collect your belongings and you'll have a record of where you were if you do leave anything behind.
Be well,
Miriam

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