Taxis and the shortest route home (from my email)

I used to drive a taxi. I made a lot of money doing it. I learned very early on to never drive someone to their destination if it was a route they drove themselves, say to their home from the airport, or from their home to work or vice versa. Everyone prides themselves on driving the shortest route but they rarely do. Often people develop a route that is based on need -say going by the day care, or avoiding an intersection where they once had an accident or to avoid driving by an ex’s house or skirting road construction long since resolved- but as they become habituated to it, they fail to reorganize their strategy when their needs change. When I first started driving a cab, I drove the shortest route –always, I’m ethical- but people would accuse me of taking the long way because it wasn’t the way they drove. So, I learned to go their way ending up with a lot less grief and a lot more money. If you’ve ever wondered why a seeming professional cab driver will ask you how to get to your destination, this is why. Going your way means they’ll make more money and they won’t be accused of ripping you off. Not to say that in the beginning, I wasn’t stupid. I’d try to show the customer the route on a map but they’d usually be offended that I was contradicting them. It was to their house, if I’d never been there, how could I possibly know better than they did? In the end, experts they consider themselves to be, people are a tangle of unexamined emotional impulses and illogical responses.

You can read more about quite different topics here.  And here is another point:

Oh, and here’s a tip I hope you never need: if your car is ever stolen, your first calls should be to every cab company in the city. You offer a $50 reward to the driver who finds it AND a $50 reward to the dispatcher on duty when the car is found. The latter is to encourage dispatchers on shift to continually remind drivers of your stolen car. Of course you should call the police too but first things first. There are a lot more cabs than cops so cabbies will find it first -and they’re more frequently going in places cops typically don’t go, like apartment and motel complex parking lots, back alleys etc. Lastly, once the car is found, a swarm of cabs will descend and surround it because cabbies, like anyone else, love excitement and want to catch bad guys. Cabbies know a lot of stuff*. I found a traveling shoplifting ring in Phoenix once. Professional shoplifters always take cabs. So do strippers going to work but that’s another story.


Interesting, and I thought the reason JFK NYC cabbies ask me how to get where I am going (even when I don't know myself) is because they don't know themselves (and I think I'm right). They compare unfavorably with London cabbies.

If you're going into Manhattan, they ask you whether to take the tunnel with a toll or the bridge without, no? If the tolled route is faster it should be the customer's decision whether to pay extra for the saved time.

Of coure London cabbies are extenisively trained. That is not the case in any other city.

Google "The Knowledge" for details of what London cabbies have to learn to pass the test -
basically 20000+ roads in a 6-mile radius (and London is a maze of random streets, not an easy
grid).. It takes 2-4 years to learn it - you sometimes see them going around on a scooter with a
London A-Z. IIRC one cabbie won the UK's "Mastermind" TV quiz show competition, which required
both general knowledge and learning a different specialist topic in great detail for each round.

I believe this is very different from the minimal licensing requirements in most other cities.

And London taxi drivers are paid £70,000 a year - one of the highest paid professions in England. That's not the case anywhere else in the world. Most places taxi drivers are paid around the same amount as cleaners, fast food workers, etc. You also need to take an almost 3 year course to become a black cab taxi driver in London.

I'm glad there are people on here who pointed out the cost. I went to London on business and took a taxi from Heathrow to the Docklands area that cost $166. (I don't remember how much in GBP, but I remember writing $166 on my expense report.) When I mentioned to an English colleague that I'd taken a taxi, he mentioned something about having to take out a mortgage.
So I'll take NYC taxis at the prices they charge any day of the week.

The "I’m ethical" is the important bit. The ethical cab driver may always take the shortest route, and have the expertise to do so in truth. But the customer doesn't know whether the cab driver is ethical, and therefore can't trust that they're acting on their expertise. So I'm not surprised they'd prefer to stick to routes they're familiar with rather than potentially getting scammed.

Yeah my limited experience with cab drivers is not favorable. The majority in Vegas anyway will try to rip you off. I had one pull the classic "highway or surface roads" question which I answered correctly (surface roads), and the guy did not give up but went on some spiel about how there was so much traffic on the surface roads, which I ignored. Of course there was minimal traffic on the surface roads and then the guy had a huge attitude about it and got no tip.

Vegas cabbies are a special breed. Ok, so I'm generalizing and stereotyping but my experiences are the same as yours. A rather intoxicated buddy was picked up no more than 4 blocks (he was unaware where he was) away from his hotel. An hour later, he arrived at his hotel.

If there's not a smart phone app for that yet someone should create one soon.

You input your hotel or destination. When you need to call a cab, you open the app, click the 'find my destination' button and then the app shows the expected Cab fare for the distance. Bonus points (and maybe a percentage cut) for showing a list of Cab companies with phone number that agree in advance to the listed fee and letting a user directly dial.

Yea, Uber has that functionality... I've used it plenty on late weekend nights.

.... and naturally the cab unions are trying to regulate Uber out of business is major cities... incredibly convenient and technologically oriented - can't have that. Chicago is even passing a regulation requiring physical meters on the cars in the name of 'accuracy' - because GPS is not a "reliable measure of distance".

They have these apps in London and they work great! You can rate the driver and the driver can rate the passenger.

The London app is called Hailo and Get Taxi--Hailo has a lot more cabs signed up. Use it all the time. There's also a private taxi company called Addison Lee and they have their own app.

My grandfather once told me an opposite story . . . he was friends with a bunch of jazz musicians back in the Fifties, and one night, they were coming back from the clubs, smashed out of their heads. They'd been walking for a while, and his friends didn't know how to get back to their hotel, so they flagged a cab, got in, and told him where they were going. The cabbie said that it was REALLY close, and they should probably walk, because, if he started the cab, he had to charge them the minimum fee. They said that they were trashed enough that that was okay, it was worth it to get back.

So the cabbie shrugged, pulled a U-turn, and dropped them off on the other side of the street, in front of their hotel.

And, yes, it was worth it -- they probably wouldn't have found their way back.

Cabbies that service airports want to get you home from the airport as quickly as possible so they can get back in line at the airport. The route they take may be faster but farther. I always tell them that the fare from my house to the airport is $21, I don't care what route you take, all you're getting is $21..

they'll drive as fast as possible, but i don't think that means that they'll necessarily take the fastest route.

Ray Lopez is right about London cabbies. Also, if a cabby were really just concerned that the passenger may challenge his route, he wouldn't ask for directions. Instead, he would say: "I'm planning to go route XYZ. Let me know if you think there is a faster one." Which I have never heard.

Interesting. In my experience this is very common.

Oddly enough, the route I now use to go home from the airport is one suggested by a cab driver after he had asked me how to get to my house, and I asked him what he thought was the best way in response. It was better than mine by a few minutes (if there's minimal traffic).

On the other hand, the only time I was late for a plane was when the cab driver suggested a longer route to get around traffic and got himself badly lost.

Still, anyone can get lost. I was the only passenger on a full-sized transit bus when the driver got off-route and lost himself in our residential neighborhood. (It was late, and the neighborhood is full of little twisty streets.) I offered to help navigate when I realized he'd driven us into a dead-end street :-).

I am skeptical this (i.e. that people do not know the shortest and/or fastest route to their own house) is still true in the age of GPS and Google Maps.

I suspect that the local cabbies (and pizza drivers even more so) are still your best source of very localized traffic patterns and current road conditions. But on the other hand GPS's are much better than your average persons knowledge of anything but their most familiar drives.

And a follow up:

The inclusion of GPS in all cars would probably lower yearly fuel consumption more than any amount of further reducing drag coefficient or adding tire pressure monitors.

The inclusion of GPS in all cars

If you have a smart phone you already have GPS, and usually better than all but the newest GPS units. Google Maps with traffic on a smartphone is much better than any of the GPS units I've seen.

And cab drivers come, like all other people, in varying degrees of honesty. After driving for a more than 5 years in a major city, this is what I learned:
1) Good people live in all kinds of neighborhoods, wear all kinds of clothes, live in big houses and small houses, do all kinds of work, are of varying sexual orientation, and are of both genders.
2) Assholes live in all kinds of neighborhoods, wear all kinds of clothes, live in big houses and small houses, do all kinds of work, are of varying sexual orientation, and are of both genders.
3) The people with the biggest 'tude were airline pilots (even though they are flying-bus drivers).
4) The best tippers, by far, were wait staff and bartenders. And strippers.


honest and

This is true as long as you have decent data coverage, which is by no means assure thing in many areas.

@bob dole: With the Nexus 7, wifi-only version, you can download detailed Google Maps and use them offline with the built-in GPS. No data coverage required, just a semi-clear view of the sky. Works great, especially on less traveled back roads. But you do have to download, while connected via wifi, the offline maps for the area.

Not at all. The best standalone devices are always better than all-in-one devices. The best GPS units cost around $700. You can get a smartphone with Google Maps navigation for more than half that price. But it doesn't come close to the standalone GPS. For a start the GPS chip in the GPS unit is much more reliable than the one in the phone. The software is much better, much more options. Sure Google Maps on smartphones might be better than the cheaper $100 GPS units, but not the best ones.

I think this is highly dubious.

Having a GPS navigator means you can take the wrong turn without any significant issue, since the navigator will immediately recompute the route and you might not even notice the mistake.
On the other, with a paper map, making a wrong turn is extremely annoying since it means stopping and figuring out WTF just happened.

Plus, navigators tell you about speed cameras, so you'll spend more fuel accelerating and braking between them.

What would reduce fuel consumption are self-driving cars, not GPS-assisted human-driver ones.

GPS tells you where you are and shows you where there is. It does not tell you the fastest route. Google Maps is plagued with problems, doesn't know anything about current traffic and road conditions. And neither one of these tools eliminates cognitive bias (see OP).

I dunno Eric,

I live in DC, which has just about the worst traffic in the country, and Google Maps has been remarkably accurate as concerns route and traffic for me.

Then again, that's not difficult if all it takes is painting all the roads red during HOV hours.

You may be interested in checking out the app Waze which does take into account current traffic conditions from its users. It has "critical mass" of users at least in the SF Bay Area and in Boston, but I bet in most other large metro areas in the US. It will re-route you live as traffic patterns change, and for regular routes you take it will over time learn your preferred way if it disagrees with its suggestions.

Google track traffic speed continuously from phone locations. Maps/Navigation use a mixture of current and historical data to calculate the fastest routes.

In my area, where perhaps Google doesn't have as much data because of lower user density, established grid patterns, etc., the map sometimes directs me to attempt to cross irrigation canals where there is no bridge, thinks that I can access streets by jumping off overpasses, and so on.

Again, the OP was not about what you and I might think is the best route, it is about convincing random people that our way is better and that we aren't trying to rip them off. Spend about two minutes reading about "how businesses work" on DailyKos (or sometimes in the comments section here) and then try imagining taking those people as passengers and convincing them that something besides their tried-and-true route is better and not just in your interest. After all, a taxi ride is usually a one-off business relationship where opportunism might be a factor. The first time Google maps hits a traffic jam, your passenger will immediately decide that it doesn't work as well as their preferred route and that you probably knew it the whole time. If it does work as well as their preferred route, they will chalk it up to luck. So the best strategy for the cab driver is probably still to ask.

Has anyone actually seen taxis with a GPS displayed? Upon revisiting Google Maps, I have to say they have improved since I last checked. It acknowledges the alternate route to my house that is 2 minutes longer under normal conditions, but as much as 5-10 minutes shorter in rush hour (depending on the disruptive effect of commuter trains at a single-point-of-failure crossing).

Likelihood of seeing such a device in Bogota anytime soon: <0.05.

The customer is always right. I have from time to time been told what needs to be done to fix a problem by the customer. If that is what they want, that is what they get.

Cabs can also be cheaper than road service and much faster. I change my own flats but when my wife got one I urged her not to call the road service which would take hours and charge at least sixty dollars (local equivalent). Instead I told her just to call the cab dispatcher and explain her predicament. I don't know what the AVERAGE cabbie would charge to change a flat but this way she got the MARGINAL cabbie which was much less than the road service and came instantly.

For a few years I was taking a lot of taxis in Chicago and generally on the same routes. I worked and went to grad school at night downtown, and the 15 min cab ride for $20 was an excellent value vs a half mile hike and wait for an el train at the end of a 14hr day.

I'd usually signal my familiarity with the driver and ask for their input. Many had excellent local knowledge.

Eg: Me: I usually like Lakeshore but there's a Cubs game today, maybe we should take the Kennedy?
Cabbie: Oh it is only the top of the sixth, we can sneak through before the traffic.

Only a couple times did I find a guy deliberately trying to run up the rate by taking strange routes. I'd protest loudly and threaten to call the cabbie complaint line. If they gave me the line about "its faster" I'd say fine, pause the meter and you can take whatever shortcut you choose.

Now in the Ann Arbor area, my only use of cabs is generally a planned ride home after a night out at the pubs. Depending on where I am this can be $20-$80, but given the infrequency and the dui risk this is a great value. Some cabbies like to play the "guess the price" game and agree to a fixed price. Then they will run the meter to compare but I pay the agreed price. Usually I am in the meter-plus-tip range, but a couple times the cabbie has known an awesome shortcut so I've (happily) paid significantly more than meter.

People who take cabs often around here get to know a particular driver and have their card. For instance I know a cabbie who lives near me. I will call him in the evening and tell him I'm looking for a ride home at the end of the night. He'll call me later (say 11:30pm) and let me know he'll be by in 30 minutes. He gives me a good flat rate and also gets paid for his otherwise deadhead drive home.

I know a couple people with excellent relationships with their cabbies. My friend in Detroit has called his cabbie and had him do all sorts of things - deliver food, pick up friends, deliver packages - and just always uses him for the ride home and tips generously. Very handy for instance at the end of a sporting event where you know your guy will come only for you.

80 bucks home in AA? Yea right. It would cost 5-10 AT most.

$80 home to A2 means the dude is at a strip club in Windsor. Not that I would know.....

I dunno, I get a lot of cabbies who don't seem to know their way that well off the interstates, and take me home by a route that is demonstrably longer and, at most times of day, not even as fast.

A lot of commentators are using the words "fast" or "faster". As you think about this, ensure you distinguish "fast" from "short". Most cab fares are based on mileage. The "fastest" route may not be the less costly. The "shortest" route may take longer. In the end, a good cab driver will seek your input on whether to get you to your destination by the "fastest" or "shortest" route based on your current priorities.

Yes, definitely. I've cabbed to and from the airport many times. From where I live there are two distinct and equally reasonable routes. One uses the freeway and is typically (outside of peak times) faster. The other uses surface streets and is slower, but more direct. The surface route costs 10-15% less.

In the Houston area--especially in the northern suburbs where I live--there are probably at least five police cars (city, county or state) for every taxi, so calling the cab companies about a stolen car wouldn't be such a wonderful idea here.

How about asking a cop for a lift?

Except the Cabbie looking for a reward will have a better incentive to find your car than the police (even if there are a lot of them and they have nothing else to do).

Jim, I sort of assumed the OP's advice was for real city living. Not suburban so much. On the other hand, if you live in the city, you're less likely to have a car in the first place.

Cabbies gets more money for the block than for each subsequent block. If the cabbie has an expectation that he will quickly pick up a fare after dropping you off, his incentives are to get you to your destination by the fastest route. So, if you live in a city with a shortage of cabs, or are headed to a busy part of town, the cab will not mess with you. If you are taking your cabbie to the boonies, then he probably need you to tell him were to go anyway.

I'm skeptical but maybe it depends on the city. I frequently take taxis in Houston to and from bars. I know the city well and drive around it regularly.

In my experience, most cab drivers have not lived in the city long and do not know their way around. There are exceptions, of course, but I've had many cab drivers who do not know a particular exit or side road exists. Many cab drivers chat on their cell phones the whole trip and don't seem to pay close attention and will often miss turns when left to their own devices. I've tried letting them go the way they or their GPS think is best and they inevitably take routes that are a bit longer with the fare a bit larger than my routes.

It's much more relaxing to take a cab in a city you don't know well so that you don't have to back-seat drive the trip.

I've taken taxis in New York City for three decades and they always seem to go what they think is the best way - usually a lot better than the "naïve" solution.

I used to take the same ride late at night quite a bit. The first few times, I was surprised when the drivers took Park Row but I looked on a map and realized that it was the fastest way. After a while, i had a few taxi-drivers who knew a shortcut through East Broadway (most New Yorkers don't even know that street exists), which I believe took an addition two or three minutes off my commute.

But either of these routes were 10 minutes less than what I'd have gotten if I'd made my best guess. Clearly these drivers are actively trying to do a good job of navigation...

am i the only one thinks fastest route depends on the avg of a few lights and tight intersections ?

and that this is time of day dependent ?
on my way home from work, there is a theoretically much shorter route, but at rush hour there are two lights that get horribly backed up; I always go the longer faster way avoid those bad lights
and that psychologically (which is what really counts) a shorter route with some long waits maybe longer
not to mention, I'm not actually seeing any data here, just anecdotes...

Interesting to think that worrying about your taxi driver taking the shortest route may go away in most of our lifetimes. Obviously the phone solves the problem for you now but rather I am saying we probably will not have a human driver at all. Although I guess Google could just tell us they took the shortest route when they did not. And we couldn't even catch them with our phone since Google would control that too...

Say I'm an a-hole who likes to abuse my wife. And one day she has the courage to get in her car and leave. And she's smart enough to go and stay somewhere I'm not aware of. So I can call up the cab companies, tell them my car's been stolen, and have them help me track her down? If I ran a cab company, I don't think I'd want my drivers and dispatchers doing favours for members of the public in exchange for cash rewards. Surveillance state for hire? No thanks.

The more interesting question is should a stolen vehicle report be public information (maybe it already is)? If the reports were public then you could easily offer rewards to track down vehicles. On the other hand we would need to make it more difficult to file a false report. In general I think I am in favor of being able to recruit people to track down your stolen car as long as those people can verify the theft is legitimate.

But if the use of the reward system became widespread it might encourage more theft...

What if they merely performed this service for free (public relations)? Or in exchange for services? I'm sorry, what you're suggesting is that people shouldn't do things for other people because some asshole might take advantage of such a hypothetical system. Duh, that will always be true. That's why we call them assholes.

Funny cab story, from San Francisco. On vacation, we spent a couple of hours after dinner with a cabbie who stopped to take us back to our hotel. He had good jazz on the sound, and while driving back I noticed that the ride was really inexpensive, so we asked him to show us some of the downtown sights.

Had a fun evening, not expensive, big tip, fun had by all.

Next morning, checking out of the hotel, LOTS of luggage - traveling by Amtrack - Doorman gets us a cab, we load the trunk full, he says "where to?" and I say the train station. He erupts with violent profanity, as this is a 3 block ride - curses all the way to the station, curses while unlaoding the trunk. The meter is $1.80 (this was in the 80s). I hand him a five, and he says "I don't have any change." which has to be a lie. I was intending on tipping him a couple of bucks, but...

Fortunately, I had got a $2 bill in change, and put it aside. So when he told me he couldn't make change, I said, that's too bad, and handed him the $2 for the $1.80 ride, and said "Keep the change!"

Like a sailor, nearly. I WAS a sailor, so I've heard real cursing, and he was close. A Great Experience in cabbies in less than 24 hours from top of the profession to the absolute bottom.

I always prefer to stick with one cab service when travelling or at home. As soon as you find one cabby you like, get his card and try to stick with his company and if you can, that cabby.

I've used a cab to go to the airport when I could have gotten a ride just to see what they thought the fastest way was. I thought I had planned a good path but I was way off. Found out about a side entrance that I wasn't aware of.

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When I was staying with a friend in DC last year, my experience driving sucked because Washington streets are really confusing, and when I took a cab, the cabbie got blocked by some one-way streets. To get to the front door would have meant driving several extra blocks. I had him drop a block away to minimize the pain for both of us.

I'm a cabbie, and I always ask if the fare has a route they want to go. Lord knows if I deviate in any way from "their" mental route, I'm going to wrong way, and cheating them. The freeway is faster, and $7.00 more, the surface roads are cheaper, but 6 min longer. What's important to each fare? I gotta ask, or I'll guess wrong. I agree completely that servers, bartenders, other cabbies, and strippers tip the best.

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The last time I flew into LAG, our cabbie asked if it was OK to take the FDR. I had already learned from the Goog that the FDR was the only uncongested route into Manhattan, and I hate sitting in traffic, and my wife hates stop and go traffic. Little did we know that we had the best cabbie ever. This guy wove in and out between lanes without hardly any start/stop acceleration at all. The result -- something like 20 minutes to midtown from La Guardia, was PFA (pretty amazing) for a weekend evening with no car sickness at all. Tipped nearly 25%

He clearly knew the best route, but since it was 10-20% longer and had tolls (though maybe all the routes do now?) he checked with us first.

I find it quite amusing that so many commentators assume that taxi drivers know, without hesitation, what will be the fastest route among any two points in their city at any time of the day and any day of the week. I think this is quite unbelievable. I would not know for sure that the routes that I do to come home from different points in the city are the best!!!

In fact if I check a planned trip from home with Google Maps I will usually find that the route I would take is not necessarily the best, but is usually among the 2-3 best alternatives, which only differ by a few minutes, although the distance travelled and the route taken may be quite different.

So I imagine that in many (not all) situations taxi drivers are at best as good as Google Maps: they can visualize several alternatives that will normally take roughly similar times, but they know that unexpected traffic conditions may appear in any of those routes, and it si not possible to choose among them with total certainty. So, just in case, they prefer to let the costumer choose the route. If something goes wrong, the costumer will not complain, and they will still get paid.

I am thinking that the best way I could imagine getting things done is through a insurance quotes service. I was at the airport like four days ago. The first thing I thought about was, "I bet someone could get great deals through insurance quotes." Keep up the great posts.

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