Washington, DC – Tips on Taking a Taxi

Share Button

Hailing a Cab

To hail a cab in Washington DC, stand near the edge of the road and stick your hand in the air when you see a taxi heading your way. If the taxi is heading in the opposite direction you can still try to flag them down as sometimes they will turn around to pick you up. Few taxis in Washington DC have lights on their roof to let you know whether or not they are available. Instead DC cabs tend to have “On Call” signs that flip down from their sunvisors to let you know if they currently have customers. Do not rely on this method though as DC taxis have been known to not use their “On Call” signs.

The best places to hail a taxi are along busier streets or popular attractions. Some examples of high traffic areas are around the National Mall, outside Union Station, in front of large hotels, most anywhere in downtown DC, and busy sections of Northwest DC (Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Adams Morgan, etc.).

The taxis of DC are not necessarily the standard yellow cab that you would see in other major cities. The DC cabs are mainly pale yellow or white, but do come in every color. Some of the most common taxi models in the city are Ford Crown Victorias, Ford Tauraues, and Mercurys.

Taxi Rates

Washington cabs used to be on a zone fare system but they have recently switched over to the standard metered system. The metered rates are as follows, a $3.25 flag drop rate and $2.16 per every mile traveled. There is a 25¢ charge for every minute spent stopped or traveling less than 10 mph. By September 1, 2013 all 7,300 of DC’s cabs must have installed credit card machines; it would still be a good idea to check with your cab driver ahead of time to make sure your credit card will be accepted.

Washington DC Surcharges

  • There is a $1.00 charge for up to three additional passengers after the first (children under 6 ride free)
  • A $2.50 surcharge is applied for each trip originating at the Reagan National Airport taxi stand.
  • A 0.25 cent surcharge is always added to offset the cost of running the credit card machines
  • Expect a $2.00 phone dispatch fee
  • Dismissal without use (after cab has arrived) is $1.50.
  • Add 25% during a snow emergency.

Taxis from Airports

There are three main airports near the Washington, DC area, BWI, Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles.

BWI Airport

  • A taxi ride from BWI to downtown will cost you about $65 – $80 depending on traffic and where exactly you are headed in the downtown area.
  • The taxi stand is located just outside of the lower level baggage claim area.

Ronald Reagan National Airport

  • Taxi stands are located near the baggage claim exits of each terminal.
  • A trip from Ronald Reagan to downtown DC will take about 15 minutes and cost about $15 – $20.

Dulles

  • A trip from Dulles to downtown DC will take about 40 minutes and will cost about $60 – $70.
  • Taxis are dispatched outside the lower level of the Main Terminal.

View From Across the Pond: The Thoughts of a London Cabbie

Share Button

We all know of the knowledgeable and experienced cab drivers of London, equipped with years of training and ‘The Knowledge’ course under their belt. We are pleased to feature genuine London hack, Robert Lordan, who can share his experiences and provide a glimpse into a day in the life of an English cabbie. Robert shares stories accumulated while on the job, as well as his vast knowledge of the city of London in the interview below and also on his amazing blog, View From the Mirror: A Taxi Driver’s London.  Be sure to check out his site to learn more about the differences in training, culture and regulation of the taxi industry in England compared to the United States.

You mention that driving a cab is not your first profession. Can you tell us a little bit about your first career path and how life led you to becoming a cabbie?

After leaving school and working for some time as a warehouseman, I attended university where I studied English Literature. After this, I went on to train as a secondary school teacher (in the UK that means working with kids aged 11-16). Although I enjoyed working in education, I found the experience way too stressful, not to mention the copious amounts of paperwork involved.

Consequently, I left my chosen career… and fell into unemployment. Unable to find work, it was my father who suggested that I apply for the training course to become a London cabbie, as he had several friends who worked as taxi drivers and knew it was a worthwhile profession to get into.

It is funny the paths life leads us down. What is your favorite aspect about being a cab driver?

That’s a difficult one to answer because there are so many aspects I enjoy! I suppose the primary one is being self-employed; having the flexibility to work whichever days and hours you want, in whatever part of the city you wish.

It is so great you enjoy so many aspects of your job, but do you enjoy the people you encounter? You say your favorite type of passengers are those who enjoy chatting. Can you tell us about your favorite experience with a passenger?

Again, a very tricky question to answer due to the vast array of wonderful people I meet!

One recent experience does come to mind though: at St Pancras International railway station (where trains travelling from Paris arrive), I picked up a lovely family from Cambodia who were on vacation in Europe. The family was all smiles; amongst the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The father in particular spoke fluent English and we had a good chat.

Although we didn’t speak about it in depth, I was well aware that the parents were old enough to have suffered under Pol Pot’s horrific regime in the 1970s.

As well as paying me with a nice tip, the father handed me a gift; a Cambodian banknote, telling me that if I ever decided to visit his beautiful country, that would pay for the taxi journey from the airport into the center of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. I do hope to go there one day, but I will not be using the note- I will keep it forever as a beautiful reminder of how truly kind and wonderful people can be.

What an amazing story. I’m sure you have many other touching experiences; was there a specific moment or event like this that led you to blogging? When did you begin blogging about your thoughts and experiences on the job?

I first began blogging in 2011. My family had been suggesting that I set up a site detailing my experiences. This was boosted by a very specific moment when a passenger who worked in publishing encouraged me to do the same.

She also recommended that I get involved in social media, suggesting that it may one day help lead to a book deal… I’ve still got my fingers crossed!

 How exciting, we will cross our fingers for you as well! …You are our first cab driver from London to be featured on our Newsroom, thanks! What makes London such a great city in your opinion?

You’re very welcome! I adore the city in which I work; whenever I see eager tourists snapping photos of our many sites and landmarks I feel very proud indeed.

What makes London such a great city is that it embodies history and tradition whilst embracing progression and modern trends. I’m also very proud of the amazing array of art, film, music and literature which London has bestowed upon the world.

 Speaking of the vast history of London – the city’s cab drivers must participate in and pass ‘The Knowledge’ training course; can you explain this process?

‘The Knowledge of London’ as it’s fully known is by far the most intense thing I’ve ever undertaken….

Thanks to its long history, London’s roads are a chaotic mess.

Some are Roman in origin, others Viking or Victorian. They twist, they turn, they veer off in directions you don’t want them to. In more recent years, the authorities have turned many of London’s road systems into complex one-way systems; labyrinths where even the most experienced, sat-nav armed drivers can become hopelessly lost.

In view of this, those at the top believe it’s a good idea for aspiring London cabbies to actually learn the roads upon which they plan to ply for hire. This means studying every single road, street and alley that lies within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross (the official center of London, just beside Trafalgar Square).

You have to commit the names of these roads (of which there are over 20,000) and any one-ways or other restrictions to memory. You are also required to memorize the places of interest on these roads- and there are thousands of them… hotels, pubs, restaurants, shops, museums, parks, railway stations, police stations, fire stations, hospitals, statues, courts, prisons, places of worship, theaters…. It goes on.

There is a system in place to help you learn this… the ‘Blue Book’; a list of 320 routes (or ‘runs’ as they are known in the trade). Each run links two specific points (for example, the first- and most famous- is Manor House tube station to Islington’s Gibson Square). You must study everything within a quarter of a mile of each start and end point- road names, road restrictions, places of interest and so on. You must then plot the most direct route between the two places, drive it and commit it to memory- this means reciting the roads and directions for every run, every day at home (rather like a child learning there times tables).

Most Knowledge students learn the streets by driving around on a moped- if you are in London, you can spot them as they have a clipboard (often stuffed with notes) attached to the handlebars.

Whilst learning, you must also of course be tested. This involves a series of one-on-one verbal exams called ‘appearances’ which take place in the HQ of Transport for London. The examiners themselves are veteran cabbies who, in many cases, are former police officers and hence very stern indeed.

Appearances are terrifying… rather like a job interview.

For each one, you are asked up to five questions; any two random points in London. I remember my very first question- I was asked “Grafton Square to the Caesar Hotel.” That means I had to say where the two locations were (Grafton Square is off of a road called ‘Old Town’ in Clapham, South London and the Caesar Hotel is on Queen’s Gardens, Paddington). Once the examiner is satisfied you know where the locations are, you must verbally describe the most direct route you’d take between the two, naming every road and turn (“Leave Grafton Square by Old Town, forward North Street, forward Silverthorne Road, left Broughton Street, right Queenstown Road etc etc)…

You have to keep attending such examinations every few weeks until it is decided you are good enough. At first you are seen every 56 days, then every 28 days, then every 21 days.  Altogether, the training took me 4 and half years- which is the average for most candidates- and I had to undergo 27 verbal exams.

If you wish to learn more, I’ve given an in depth description of the experience on my website.

Wow, that sounds like an extremely intense process. What are your thoughts on this requirement to become a taxi driver, is it beneficial or overkill?

If it wasn’t for ‘The Knowledge’, then I wouldn’t have even considered being a taxi driver in London. By completing such an intensive course, I feel I’ve gained a career for life; I’ve become part of the city and, thanks to the intense training, the city has become part of me.

All London cabbies are deeply proud of their achievement in learning London inside out.

The course is totally beneficial; London is etched upon our brains. Whilst driving in the city center  we don’t have to rely upon maps or navigational aids; we know where we are going. This is crucial in a city such as London- a person hops, quickly states their destination and we can head off in a flash, instinctively dodging traffic and road works as we do so.

That is very impressive, perhaps this philosophy should be adopted in major cities in the US….Your blog contains many historical references, have you always been interested in history or was this a result of “The Knowledge’ training?

History has always fascinated me but studying the Knowledge really did take it to a whole new level!

When you explore London in such depth, you discover a fascinating past and a lot of hidden history. The Knowledge also encourages you to teach yourself as much as possible… I guess that it’s an obsession you can never really shake off.

What does the future look like for you?  Are you planning on continuing to drive, and blog?

I’ll certainly keep on driving, it’s providing me with a fascinating life.

As well being part of an amazing city and meeting great people from all over the world, being a London cabbie has led to me appearing on radio (in Australia and on our own BBC), writing magazine articles and even appearing in a documentary on Japanese television… and of course I get to do lovely interviews like this!

Being self-employed and with the spare time I have waiting on ranks, I can also pursue my other passion which is writing. My main area of interest is of course London history and trivia, but I am also currently working on a children’s novel.

Thanks for reading!

 

A big thank you to the talented Robert Lordan, London cab driver and View From the Mirror blogger; for his willingness to participate in this interview.  We greatly appreciate your time, effort and support. Be sure to check out Robert’s blog for more information and stories about his experiences as a London cabbie.  

 

Tokyo, Japan – Tips on Taking a Taxi

Share Button

Hailing a Cab

Hailing a cab in Tokyo, Japan is fairly straight forward and easy. To hail a cab in Tokyo, you use the generic international method of raising your arm up as you stand on the side of the street. This will work on most roads in Tokyo with the exception of some major roads in the downtown area where taxis are not allowed to stop. If you are looking for a taxi stand try to go to a train station or a major venue and most likely you will find a queue lined up outside.

Tokyo taxis are equipped with lights right above the dashboard to alert customers as to the status of the cab. A red light means a taxi is free to pick up a passenger; a yellow light specifies that the taxi is occupied.

Once you have flagged down a taxi or found one by waiting at a taxi stand, DON’T try to open the door yourself! This may seem very counter-intuitive to a lot of people, but the doors on Tokyo taxis open automatically at the touch of a button by the driver. Likewise, the doors will shut automatically behind you, once you are in the taxi. If you try to open or shut the doors yourself you might find yourself riding with an agitated driver!

Most taxi drivers in Japan don’t speak English, so it is best to have your destination written down on a piece of paper in Japanese. Some taxis are equipped with satellite navigation systems right on the dashboard and the driver will be able to type in the address from your paper. However, some taxis do not have navigation systems yet and it is not uncommon to see your taxi driver pull out a map and try to find the best route. Tokyo is a maze of both major and minor roads so don’t be discouraged if it takes a moment for your driver to figure out where he is going.

Rates

Taxi rates in Tokyo are metered and are some of the highest in the world! The initial fare starts at ¥710 for the first 2km (1 1/4 miles) and increases by ¥90 for each additional 288m (950 ft.). You will also be expected to pay about ¥40 for each minute the taxi is stationary. To compare the price of Tokyo Taxis to Rideshare services use RideGuru.

Surcharges

  • From 10pm to 5am, an extra 30% will be added to your fare. You will be able to tell when a taxi driver has switched their meter over to the night time fare because a green light will show in the window.
  • Expect to pay extra (about ¥400) for booking a taxi for immediate pick up over the phone.

FAQ’s

Do taxis take credit cards for payment?

  • Taxis in Tokyo can be paid for by all major credit cards, though some taxis require a minimum fare of ¥5,000 in order to use your card. It is also advisable to ask your cab driver ahead of time or to bring cash just in case the machine is broken.

Can you haggle with your taxi driver over the fare?

  • There is no negotiating the taxi fare in Tokyo. Taxis are fully regulated and all fares are metered.

Do you tip your taxi driver in Tokyo?

  • You are not expected to tip your taxi driver in Tokyo. Many times customers will try to tip their driver and the driver will refuse to accept the money.

Is it true that taxi drivers in Tokyo wear uniforms?

  • Yes, Taxi drivers in Tokyo are required to wear spotless uniforms including gloves, a suit, and a cap. Tokyo drivers are put through rigorous driving and etiquette tests in order to become a taxi driver. Part of the professional etiquette that they learn includes strict honesty, meaning that if you happen to lose something in your cab you are likely to get your item back!

Do I have to wear my seatbelt in the cab?

  • The law in Tokyo requires that passengers wear seatbelts regardless of whether you are sitting in the front or back seat.

Airport to city center

A taxi ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo city center is very expensive. This is in part to the high rates but also because Narita Airport is located about 60km away from the city of Tokyo! On average a taxi ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo is around ¥25,000 to ¥30,000 and could even be more expensive if you are traveling during rush hour traffic. Taxis at the airport are located on the first floor outside both terminals.

How to Hail a Taxi in the 21st Century

Share Button

When I started driving a taxi back in 1993 cell-phones were a novelty. My first one had to be plugged into the cab’s cigarette lighter and took up a healthy part of the area between the driver’s and passenger’s-side seats. It had a receiver connected by curling cord to a bag which contained the rest of the apparatus (which couldn’t really be moved much if you wanted it to function properly) and a different wire you had to affix to the dash or roof of the car for an antenna. It was a pretty immobile mobile phone; much more akin to a battlefield wireless than what we’re all so used to these days. Nevertheless this cumbersome contraption allowed me to expand my business by allowing regular riders to contact me directly.

For the taxi drivers that came before me there were basically two ways to get fares: street hails and dispatched calls. Mobile phones added a third option. They cut out some of the randomness of picking people up off the street and the frustrations of dealing with taxi company dispatchers (who could make or ruin your night according to their whim or disposition). Driving a cab is a job fraught with chaos so any small measure to introduce order is of great relief. This holds true for the cab passenger as well. My regulars were always grateful to have a driver they could depend on rather than taking a chance on the roulette wheel of raising their hand at the street corner and hoping for the best.

My second phone could be held up to the ear all in one piece. It had a built-in corkscrew-like wire but if you wanted to hear your whole conversation you were better off attaching an external antenna which suction-cupped to the roof. Care had to be taken to attach it while the driver’s door was open, otherwise the whole rig would go flying when I got out of my cab. Texting and apps weren’t anything I could have even conceived of back then but the convenience of cutting out the middle-man that this device allowed was a tiny glimpse into the future.

When I went back to driving a cab in 2003 cellphones were fairly ubiquitous. Taxi company dispatching had made some strides as well. Though the first company I leased from still used the traditional two-way radios—with the taciturn, squawking voice on the other end—every company after had moved on to Gandalf terminals. This computerized system took much of the blatant abuse and favoritism out of the cab driver-dispatcher relationship. As entertaining as it used to be to hear another driver being ripped a new one publicly for taking too long or not picking up a passenger at all, punching a couple numbers into the terminal and avoiding interference from other drivers or long held grudges with the dispatcher was a godsend. Unlike the old setup where orders went out over the air and could be stolen by other drivers (if they got to the addresses first), the Gandalf only displayed the customer’s address to you. It made the process a bit more even-handed or, at the very least, it kept underhanded behavior out of your face, allowing a driver to get through the long daily hours behind the wheel with a bit less worry and ill feeling.

There was one problem that computerized dispatch didn’t solve however: because cab drivers are not employed by the companies they lease their vehicles from, the companies could not compel them to accept the fares that came in. It was entirely up to the driver to accept or reject a call no matter how much the company might beg or cajole. One company I drove with even had an incentive program which rewarded drivers for picking up folks that had been waiting a long time. At the end of each month the ten drivers that had amassed the most of these calls would win cash prizes. It added a fun competitive aspect to the daily slog but was hardly an effective way to service the clientele. The complaints of residents of the city’s under-served areas never seemed to abate.

Sometime in the mid-2000s I noticed a new thing appear. It was called Taxi Magic and with it a customer could summon a taxi through an app on their smartphone. It was a little disconcerting the first time I picked up a couple and they addressed me by my name. The city’s taxi companies all fed their dispatched calls into Taxi Magic, but unlike when you called the cab company for a ride and they’d give you your cab’s number once one had been found, Taxi Magic also included the driver’s name. When you know someone’s name the interaction you have with them becomes much more personal and it’s much easier to give praise or blame where it’s due. If you leave something in the cab, for example, it’s so much simpler to look at your phone and see that you were in Dmitry’s cab and retrace your steps, rather than wracking your brains while calling every cab company in town.

In 2012, at the end of my cab career, I worked for a bit with Uber. Uber is a smartphone app which connects passengers and drivers through GPS and provides a rating system for both. The people that used the service raved about it because it gave them control over the whole taxi-taking experience that they never felt before. Taxi companies didn’t feel the same way. They considered Uber and other similar services (like Hailo) as a threat, and with good reason. They’ve tried to sue them out of existence by claiming that the newcomers weren’t bound by the same industry rules that they had to live by all these years. I won’t go into the pros and cons of that argument except to say that the dispatching apparatus as set up by the companies and the city was deeply flawed and Uber, et al were offering possible solutions instead of clinging to things as they’d always been for no particular reason aside from fear of change.

I don’t know if Uber or Hailo is the answer but some such tool is the future of taxi dispatch. By making the driver-customer interaction personal, accountable, and customizable many of the inefficiencies and longstanding problems of the whole experience can be eliminated to a large degree. A driver can no longer claim to be outside your door when he’s actually still a mile away, because you can see his precise position on your phone and you can call him directly and ask him to stop playing games. A passenger can no longer run out without paying because his credit card is on file and the driver will be compensated for his work no matter how far the passenger runs from the cab.

It’s all about taking as much chance and luck out of the process as possible. Will an app make every ride perfect? Of course not, but anything we can do to make the experience of taking a taxi easier should be welcomed with open arms.

 

 

This piece was written by guest writer Dmitry Samarov. We would like to thank Dmitry for his input and opinion; your time and support are greatly appreciated. If you would like to learn more about Dmitry’s experiences, check out TaxiFareFinder’s interview conducted in May of 2013.  To read more from Dmitry, visit his website: http://www.dmitrysamarov.com/.