by Águeda Ramírez
I can remember the first time I ever rode a NYC yellow taxi cab. It was the mid nineties, and I had been shopping in Soho with a girl friend. It was getting late in the day, we were tired, and there were two of us – so we figured we would split the bill up to the Union Square area to finish up our spree. We flagged down a yellow cab and in we went. The minute I stepped inside, all of the things my parents had ever warned about yellow cabs flooded my mind. “It’s true,” I thought, “yellow cabs are disgusting! They smell terrible! Is this guy gonna rip me off? I gotta watch the meter.” I now realize that all of these skeptical criticisms came from a lack of experience. You see, as a resident of upper Manhattan, I had never used yellow cabs, mostly because they aren’t around uptown. Uptown offers a different breed of cab: The black livery car service.
Walking the streets of uptown Manhattan, you’ll see them everywhere: black, silver, beige and white, often Lincoln town cars or Hondas and sometimes even Escalades, Suburbans, and Denali’s. Their license plates say T&LC, and they’re governed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York City, just like yellow cabs. And though they take you from place to place, like a yellow cab would, they operate a little differently.
How They Work
Unlike yellow cabs, in order for a black livery cab to pick you up you must solicit their business by calling the radio dispatch base that will “place your order.” Once you give them your address, the dispatcher will then put a call over the radio and whatever car is available will answer and confirm pick up. The dispatcher will then let you know what car will be picking you up and when you should expect them. Dispatchers speak really fast – like micro machine guy fast – so keep your ears sharply attuned! The usual wait for a car is two minutes, enough time to put on your jacket, grab your bag, and head downstairs. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York, it is illegal for black livery cabs to pick up passengers on the street, but if you find yourself on the street, phoneless, and in need of a cab, you can hail a black livery cab and they will pick you. When a cab does this, they are going “gypsy,” hence the term “gypsy cab.” The law is not strictly enforced – it’s like jay walking. However, though it’s common practice uptown, make sure to check license plates for the T&LC lettering to confirm legitimacy.
Unlike yellow cabs, black livery cabs do not have a meter; their fares are broken down by zones or mileage. Each radio dispatcher works their zones out differently, but generally one zone covers a twenty block radius. A ride within the same zone will run you about $7, with additional fare per every zone outside of that original zone that you travel through. Miles will run an average of $3-4 per mile. For example, the other night I went from the Columbia Presbyterian Milstein Building area (168th and Fort Washington) to 207th Street and 10th Avenue, which cost about $10. I’ve also traveled from Washington Heights down to Chelsea, which runs about $25-$28. Trips to the airports will usually be a flat fee, not including tolls, which you are responsible for paying. Those range from $45-$100 depending on the airport distance.
Black livery cabs are often clean, well kept, and tend to be luxury leather interior cars. Most drivers are independent contractors and the cars that they drive are often their own. Because they’ve invested in their business, they value looking their best and being well serviced. I personally love this because it means that I’ll probably be stepping into a clean car … and who doesn’t love that?!
Service and Community
Black livery cab drivers tend to be very personable. Unlike yellow cabs, there usually isn’t a plexi-glass division between you and your driver or a TV in your car. This invites communication, and you might find yourself engaged in a friendly conversation with your driver. Sometimes, they may offer you use of their radio as a courtesy. If you have a lot of stuff, they will help you with packing it into the trunk and unpacking once you’ve arrived. If I find myself having a great cab ride with great service, I show my appreciation in the form of a $1-$3 tip. If you find yourself having a good rapport with a particular driver, get their card and special request them when you call the dispatch next, especially if it’s a ride that you find yourself doing often and at the same times of the week. Black livery cab drivers love to build and sustain a client base.
Some black livery cab dispatch companies offer corporate accounts. Corporate accounts offer a special billing system and lower rates. Some companies also offer extended hourly use of cars as well. For example, I was preparing my best friend’s bachelorette party and needed to run errands between Washington Heights and the Flatiron District. I had three hours, and my ride had bailed on me. With the magnitude of stuff I had to do and the distance between everything, I needed a car badly! At the last minute, I called Riverside Car and Limo Service and rented a driver at an hourly rate. I had exactly three hours to get everything done, and with the help of my driver I was able to do just that.
Though very different than yellow cabs, uptown’s predominating black livery cab services is a complete and service oriented business. As New Yorker who uses both cab services that the city has to offer, I do prefer the black livery cab service but also recognize that it is a much more comfortable system for uptown. Downtown can be hectic, and yellow cabs are quick efficient; you’re in and you’re out, much like fast food. Uptown is more laid back and spread out. For uptown, black livery cabs offer not just the speed of getting you to your destination, but also comfort and care while you get there, much like a nutritiously home cooked meal. Yum!
Notable Washington Heights/ Inwood Dispatchers
Riverside Radio Dispatcher Inc
1642 Saint Nicholas Avenue, New York, NY 10040
Professional Car Service
376 Audubon Avenue, New York, NY 10033
New Bennett Radio Dispatcher Inc (Changing name to Family Car Service)
4329 Broadway, New York, NY 10033
Premium Car Service
1993 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10032
Seaman Radio Dispatcher