Taxi Safety Tips

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Taxi safety is an important issue that is often overlooked until a tragic event forces it to the surface. Recently, in Boston, our home city, there have been several unmarked taxi-related crimes reported. In separate occasions, women have been sexually assaulted late at night by men posing to be livery drivers.  Events such as these are terrible and heartwrenching, so TaxiFareFinder has compiled a few tips and suggestions on how to protect passengers and get home safely. We hope that this knowledge can allow city citizens, not only in Boston but around the world, to safeguard themselves and avoid additional crimes.

Avoid unmarked vehicles – The most important tip is to never get into an unmarked vehicle that offers you a ride.  You may think that the black SUV that magically pulls up next to you at 1:30 am offering a ride is a godsend, but this is a common trick used by predators. These drivers have not had a background check and are not legally allowed to pick up passengers on the street. Registered livery vehicles will have logos on the side of their vehicles that are permanent: either painted on or made of vinyl; they never have magnetic, removable logos.

Check vehicle and driver credentials – Taxicabs that are officially registered to a city will have a medallion.  A medallion is a swatch of medal that is generally on the back of a cab, it shows that the taxi is legal and has been checked by city officials. Also, drivers will have posted photo identification and information along with the hackney identification.  These two pieces of information are legal and vital to insuring that you are in a registered cab.

Ask for documentation – If you are still skeptical of the legality of cab, ask for additional information from the driver.  Ask basic questions, possibly about the cab company or medallion paperwork, or ask for specific licenses such as the “Massachusetts Port Authority license” in Boston. This license in particular is held by reputable companies and proves that drivers have undergone criminal background checks as well as training.

Have a buddy – Obviously there is strength in numbers, it is important to have a friend to take a cab home with. However, if you find yourself solo and in need of a cab, be sure to stay in contact with someone during your trip.  Either call a friend during your cab ride or text someone all the details: your cab company, type of car, where you were picked up, and details as you make your way to your destination. This way, there is an information trail and extra security.

Call for a ride in advance – To avoid any questions, simply call a cab ahead of time. Have a reputable cab company number on hand or use the TaxiFareFinder app resource “Taxi Finder” to find nearby cab companies and their contact information.  Call the cab company, give your name, phone number and exact location; this way, you know you have a reputable ride arriving that knows to only give a ride to you.

And remember, the great majority of cabbies out there are professional, helpful and trying to help you get home safely, just be cautious of the impersonators and questionable vehicles.  Stay safe taxi riders!

The Eating Adventures of a Hungry Cabbie

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Food connoisseur and former New York City taxi driver, Famous Fat Dave, takes passengers for true tours of the Big Red Apple: tours that are centered around food. He takes passengers for one of the most delicious rides of their lives in a classic white Checker Cab through all five boroughs on a quest for amazing food. Check out his website and blog for more information, stories and pictures about a day in the life at his appetizing job. See what Famous Fat Dave had to say to TaxiFareFinder about his experiences and time as a cab driver in our interview below!
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You mention a wide variety of jobs you’ve taken on, such as hot dog vendor and bread truck driver; can you tell us a little about your time as a cab driver?
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I actually still have a hack license, but I haven’t driven a yellow cab in years. But when I did, I had a great time. Yes, I got attacked by a junkie. And yes I got robbed. But even those experiences were interesting. Unlike most cabbies who don’t want to go to the outer boroughs, I loved taking people out there because I’d get great food tips.
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What was your favorite aspect of driving a cab in NYC?
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To me, driving a cab is like travelling. I got to meet people from all over the world, both visitors to the city and residents of the city, in the back of my cab. Plus, travelling to different parts of the city is like traversing the world because of all the different immigrant groups living here. And in a funny way, it can be like time travel too, because when an immigrant group arrives time sort of stops for them while back in the old country time marches on. So some of these places aren’t just like visiting, let’s say, Italy, they are like visiting Italy 100 years ago!
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That is a great way to view driving a cab! Today, your taxi is a little different from most NYC cabs found driving around the city. Can you give our readers a brief explanation of what makes your vehicle unique?
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I now drive a 1982 Checker Marathon. Even if you think you don’t know what a Checker is, you do. It’s the car Travis Bickle drove in the movie Taxi Driver. It’s the car Andy Kaufman worked on in the show Taxi. It’s a classic. Checker started in 1922 and they made the classic body we all know and love in 1961 and then never changed it until they went out of business making cars in 1982. So mine looks like a 1961, but it’s actually a 1982. It’s so spacious. And, since it’s a Marathon (the family version of the taxi) it’s a smooooooth ride. And because everyone loves it, people on the street or stopped in traffic can’t take their eyes off of us. It brings the characters out of the woodwork.
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You take visitors for “food tours” of New York City in your coveted Checker cab – how did you come up with this idea?
Well I didn’t sit down and think “How can I start a business?” It grew organically. I first asked my customers in my yellow cab for food tips in their neighborhoods because I wanted to know myself. I pretty quickly started taking friends and family on eating tours. Then I started taking family of friends and friends of family. And then, when people starting paying for the experience, I was faced with the choice, do I get a job or do I eat for a living? The decision to eat for a living was pretty easy at that point.
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That sounds like an easy one to decide on! When did you start your tours? And how did you get the word out there about Famous Fat Dave and become as well known as you are today?
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I started doing them for fun in 2004. Then it started to gain steam after an NPR story in 2007. I started doing tours full time after I finished grad school in 2009. I got the word out there from my website and a considerable amount of press and media you can see at here on my website, but mostly from old-fashioned word of mouth. I do have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an Instagram now, but just like I do for my food recommendations, I rely on speaking to people face to face to get the word out. Oh, and the Checker gets a lot of attention on the street!
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I bet it does – why did you choose an old white Checker Cab? And second, how did you get your hands on that beauty?
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Why? The Checker is the icon of New York City for one. It flips the tourist experience. Instead of you gawking at people in NYC, people in NYC are gawking at you. Also, about 1/3 of my business comes from New Yorkers themselves because no one appreciates a Checker more than a true New Yorker. On top of that, it’s very spacious and people tend to expand on my tour.
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How? There’s a man in Ohio named Ben Merkel who wrote a book about taxis in 2007 called The American Taxi: 100 Years Of Service. He collects old taxis, mostly Checkers, and at one point he had 500 of them. He sold me this one because it had never actually been used as a taxi and he collects taxis. Mine, who I named Sweetness, was the family version of the taxi. In fact, mine is the last Marathon that ever rolled off the assembly line in 1982. Checker pumped out a bunch of taxis for two weeks after mine, but most of those were driven into the ground and scrapped. The very last one is in a museum in Kalamazoo where it was made. Sweetness doesn’t belong in a museum, she belongs on the streets of New York City.
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What a story – how awesome! Can you choose a favorite customer that you have brought on one of your eating tours?
That question is like asking a father which of his children is his favorite. I really enjoyed eating with food luminaries like Al Roker and Tony Bourdain and Ben Seargent. But, like it says on the dry cleaning when you pick it up, we love our customers. I’ve had some customers do as many as five tours. By the end of some tours, even when it’s only once, I feel like part of the family, a long lost cousin or something.
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What is the most unexpected thing that has ever happened in your cab?
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It’s funny, nothing too crazy happens on the eating tour. Eating large amounts of food tends to make people pretty docile and actually somewhat sleepy. In my yellow cab, people would have sex and such. In my Checker, people usually glaze over in a state of food euphoria.
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 Ha, well that must be a nice change. What is the best part of your job?
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I love food and I love New York. And I love hanging out with people who love what I love. So just spending time with the people who make the food great here and the people who make the city great and the people who love experiencing it all is the best part of what I do. And then, doing in a Checker cab, amplifies it all because we are treated like celebrities everywhere we go in that thing.
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Now the hard part: what is your favorite place to eat in NYC? (Are you able to choose just one?! Or even a top five list?)
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I’m a lover, not a fighter. One of the things I can’t stand is when people start ranking places. As if you can compare a coal oven pizza to a thick slice to a grandma slice and somehow decide which one is better. I’ve set my whole life up around getting to choose from a variety of spots and NOT having to pick a favorite. And that’s reflected in the tour. I help people taste a little of this and a little of that until they are stuffed. No need to rank places. Once you’re dealing with the top notch stuff in NYC, just eat it all!
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What does the future look like for you? Seems like you have an exciting future ahead of you!
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I’m working on a book right now. I may even turn it into five books, one on each borough. So that is exciting. But people often assume I’ll expand into a big tour since people have a knee-jerk reaction that bigger is better. But I actually just want to do this forever. I don’t want to be the boss of some big tour empire. I want to drive my Checker around this great city with other people who also want to experience it in the same way I do.
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TaxiFareFinder would like to give a big thank you to Famous Fat Dave for his time, effort and willingness to share his experiences with us! Be sure to check out Dave’s website and see what he has been up to. Keep on finding those amazing restaurants!

TFF Pinterest Additions

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Don’t forget about TaxiFareFinder’s Pinterest page! It is filled with amazing pictures of taxis as well as breathtaking views of destinations around the world.

One of our newest boards is called: Taxi, Get Me Where I Want To Be! This new addition includes pictures of  landmarks and cities that the tourist in all of us dreams of visiting. Check out this board for ideas for your next vacation!

 

Taxi Gourmet: The Quest for Amazing Cabbie-Recommended Restaurants

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Ever find yourself in a new city where you are unfamiliar with the location of shops, hotels and restaurants? Taxi Gourmet blogger Layne Mosler discovered a way to find the best restaurants in town…and travel to these places at the same time. Layne has made a career out of asking cab drivers in cities around the world where the best cheap food can be found and to take her there! Check out our interview with the taxi and food connoisseur from Taxi Gourmet who knows the best places to eat and the people who will get her there.  

Can you give us a little background on your blog and what you write about?

I like to explore cities by getting into random taxicabs and asking drivers to show me their favorite places to eat.

What prompted the idea for these taxi and food-filled adventures? When did you start writing about these experiences? 

I started Taxi Gourmet in 2007 when I got into a random taxicab in Buenos Aires and asked the driver to take me to his favorite place to eat– I ended up at a fantastic neighborhood steak house that would’ve taken months to find on my own. I got the idea when I started taking lots of taxis in Buenos Aires – I discovered I was learning more about the city from cabbies than from anyone else I was meeting, and I figured, if they knew so much about their city, surely they know where to find good, cheap things to eat.

So Taxi Gourmet began in Buenos Aires, but you have since featured New York City and Berlin; which is your favorite city? (if you can pick!)

Each city has its own charm. Buenos Aires is wonderful because the taxistas are so spontaneous and open and it’s so easy to get into a great conversation there – they are great storytellers. The food the taxi drivers led me to in New York was incredible, and the fun part there is that the food doesn’t necessary correlate with a cab driver’s hometown (e.g. You can get in a cab with a Moroccan driver and end up at a Cuban place). In Berlin, many people say that cab drivers know as much about Nietzsche as they do about sausage, and I’ve met a few cab drivers to prove it.

Alright, now for the hard question: which of these cities has the best food, in your opinion? 

So far, New York is the most extraordinary food city. I love steak in Buenos Aires and doener kebab in Berlin, but I dream about so many of the dishes cabbies showed me in New York: Manchurian chow mein at Tangra Masala in Queens, jollof rice at Papaye in the Bronx, manti at Cherry Hill Grocery in Sheepshead Bay, and on and on!

That all sounds delicious. Tell us about your favorite Taxi Gourmet experience – if you can narrow it down to just one!

Many of my friends in Buenos Aires were skeptical about my project when I told them about it and were convinced that cabbies would take me for a ride if I didn’t give them a specific destination. But one time I got in a cab in a neighborhood called Caballito, and the taxista told me he couldn’t take me anywhere, because his favorite restaurant happened to be right across the street. He also insisted I get in his cab and let him drive me across the street – and he wouldn’t take my money.

Wow, what a fabulous cabbie! While we are on the subject: tell us about your favorite driver you have encountered…and their recommended restaurant.

My favorite driver is now my boyfriend – a Berlin cab driver who took me to an East German cafeteria near Alexanderplatz where they serve a very scary dish called ‘Dead Grandma’, which is a mixture of aged blood sausage and liver wurst. It tastes better than it sounds.

I sure hope it does! What is your favorite restaurant you have found through your Taxi Gourmet travels – the one you would recommend to a passenger in your cab?

In Buenos Aires, I would recommend Parrilla Pena, which is the first place a taxista ever told me about. It’s a neighborhood steak house where the bife de lomo (filet mignon) is perfect every time – and the prices are very reasonable.

In New York, I love baklava from Gulluoglu Baklava & Cafe, on 52nd and 2nd – sour cherry and walnut baklava are both outstanding there. Maybe the best I’ve tasted anywhere.

In Berlin, there is a fantastic Basilicatan Italian place called Trattoria Muntagnola in the western district of Schoeneberg – they make their own strangolapreti (gnocchi-like pasta stuffed with raisins and pine nuts) and serve it in sage butter.

Yum, those recommendations sound amazing…So after starting Taxi Gourmet you actually became a taxi driver – what inspired this decision?

I met two fierce lady cab drivers in New York who made me think I could drive a cab. I also needed another job!

Has a passenger ever asked YOU for food recommendations?

Yes! One day I picked up a couple from the Waldorf Astoria heading to brunch somewhere in the Upper East Side – they asked me about a good bakery on the way. I had no idea what to tell them. Later on I got better at giving recommendations – I would always tell passengers to try the mujadarra pita (with lentils, rice, caramelized onions and tahini) in the upstairs deli at Kalustyan’s- I can think of few ways I’d rather spend $5.

What city is Taxi Gourmet headed to next? How do you choose the cities?

I like to choose cities where I speak the language and/or where there seems to be a well-developed taxi culture. I dream of attempting a series of taxi adventures in Tokyo, where drivers wear white gloves and apparently there are no numbered addresses. I would need a translator, though…I’d also like to check out Beirut, where there is a group of female cab drivers called the ‘Pink Ladies’ whose customer base is entirely female.

Sounds like you have quite an adventure ahead of you still. You have been featured in many news pieces and even written a book about Taxi Gourmet; can you tell us more about these experiences and what to expect from your book.

My book is called ‘Driving Hungry’ and it’s the story behind the story of the Taxi Gourmet blog: How I started taking so many taxicabs in Buenos Aires and learning so much from the taxistas there, how I transplanted the project to New York and met the lady cab drivers who inspired me to get my hack license. The book also documents my adventures in the driver’s seat and my decision to attempt the taxi adventures in Berlin, where I met many cab drivers who manage to make the job a work of art. The book is coming out in 2014.

That’s awesome, congratulations! What does the future look like for Taxi Gourmet?

I’d like to continue the taxi adventures in other cities…And who knows? Maybe I’ll get a license to drive a cab in Berlin (where I live now).

 

TaxiFareFinder would like to thank the talented Layne for her support and effort; we truly appreciate her willingness to complete this interview in between travels and drafts of her novel. Be sure to take a look at her blog Taxi Gourmet and check out her book when it is published in 2014. Best of luck Layne!