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Confessions of a taxi driver

  • Story Highlights
  • A passenger's situation dictates the quickest way to get a cab
  • Taxi Magic, an iPhone app, can help you catch a cab easily
  • Taxis drive past you at night because they can't see you
  • Leave sporting events before the end of the game to get a cab quicker
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By Craig Howie
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(AOL Autos) -- How long did it take you to get a taxi last time you tried? If it was longer than 20 minutes, then chances are you live in the sticks or were calling on a busy Friday or Saturday night.

Catching a cab can be easy, whether you're in a big city or a crowded sporting event.

Catching a cab can be easy, whether you're in a big city or a crowded sporting event.

But seemingly everyone has had difficulty calling or hailing a cab at some stage, on vacation or a business trip or when stranded in a city center after a night out.

So what's the best, and quickest, way to get hold of a cab in New York? Or Los Angeles, California? Or at a major sporting event? We find out.

Beware the bandit

Basil Enerieze, a taxi driver in Los Angeles, says in general a passenger's situation dictates the quickest way to get a cab. In downtown LA or in a commercial or tourist area, hailing a cab works best, he says, but calling one is the quickest way in suburban areas.

Cabbies, he says, prefer fares that are called from a home or business as it gives the taxi company some information about the customer - their phone number, name and residence - in case the fare turns into trouble. Does this mean that taxis are more likely to respond to a call than being hailed? "If they're there and need a ride I stop my cab," Enerieze says.

"The biggest problem we face is bandit cabs. Never take a bandit cab," he says. Enerieze says he's seen unlicensed operators in LA since he got his license 15 years ago, and that while they might in some cases be quicker or more available; the risks of hailing one are too great to justify.

He says that licensed cabs will be clearly marked with a city insignia, and tells the tale of when he went to the theater in downtown Los Angeles and saw the long lines for a cab and decided, against his better judgment, to hail one of the many unlicensed cabs outside.

On the 10-or-so mile drive to his home, he noticed the meter was running too fast. "I said, 'I am a cab driver. I know that your meter is running too fast.' He [the driver] said: 'That's the way it is." And I paid the fare. [But because] it was an illegitimate taxi, I could not phone anyone to complain."AOL Autos: Cheapest family sedans

Bad apples in the big apple

Matthew Daus, the chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, concurs, telling AOL: "I think the number one, most important thing for anyone seeking taxicab or taxicab-like spontaneous service in New York City to understand is that only yellow, medallion taxicabs are legally empowered to solicit or accept street hails from the public. The driver of any other kind of vehicle that is soliciting passengers or responding to your taxi hail is already doing something illegal." AOL Autos: Cheapest luxury cars

He says that in adverse weather conditions or during peak demand hours, customers can be tempted to hop into something that looks like a legitimate limo or black car, but he, too, warns of the risks.

"TLC-licensed drivers are drug-tested and have had a criminal background check, and TLC licensed vehicles are inspected three times annually and carry insurance levels well in excess of the state's minimum requirements." AOL Autos: Best car deals this month

"Taxicabs go where the people are. If you are hailing from the street, hail in the direction you are traveling to save turn-around time for both you and your driver. If you have the time to plan ahead, a call or Web site visit to a local livery service, black car or limousine service can quickly and conveniently arrange guaranteed door-to-door pick-up and drop-off. Look for the TLC diamond sticker inside the right-hand side of the windshield."AOL Autos: Best looking 2009 cars

Use your iPhone

Taxi Magic is the latest innovative application to come to your iPhone and allows a user to book a taxi at 25 of the nation's biggest cities - excluding New York - and track the progress of the driver en route, all by pressing the iPhone's touch screen a couple times.

Helpfully, while saving you time talking to an operator it also cuts down on the number of calls the operator has to field, speeding up the service for others.

The app, which pinpoints your location with GPS and calculates the nearest cab firms, was released by Web site ridecharge.com, which also features online booking and other goodies like taxi expense and receipt tracking and, in partnership with some companies, payment and account options that are always useful on vacation or business trips. AOL Autos: Best 2009 cars for your money

Get seen easier

Late at night sometimes you get the feeling that all the cabs that drive past because cabs haven't seen you, something Stamford, Connecticut. company TaxiLite wants to remedy with its line of pocket-sized bright yellow LED light, which it says can be seen up to three city blocks away. The company says it increases your visibility in crowds and its light can be seen in rain, sleet or snow.

In a release last week, TaxiLite President, Howard Lippin, said: "TaxiLite has been very well received by cab drivers in New York City. Drivers have told me that TaxiLite will be a great help to them, especially in identifying fares at night and in bad weather."

In the dark and when it's dry, you can also try holding up an iPhone with Exact Magic Software's ingenious flashlight application, which can create a strobe-light effect to catch a driver's attention, and a couple other Apple applications also will let you spell out TAXI in flashing billboard-effect lettering.

Sporting events

Larry Meister, manager at the Independent Taxi Operators Association, which represents 350 Boston cabbies, says location is key to quickly getting a cab. He lends no credence to the rumor that patrons carrying luggage tend to get picked up quicker as cabbies know a tip is more likely at Logan International Airport (and usually drivers will go out of their way to earn it by taking the frequently heavy bags from the trunk to the curb).

Boston, he says, has hundreds of taxi stands around the city, mostly on main thoroughfares, and he says his organization and others are working to put electronic cab-tracking, wait time and fare calculators in place for a new generation of taxi customers.

But how about catching a cab at Boston's famous sporting events, a Red Sox or Celtics game? He chuckled ruefully. "You're talking about the worst time; you're competing against 20,000 other patrons for cabs at the same time. The cabs are out there on Brookline Avenue trying to serve the public, but it's tough. If you leave before the end of the game you might have a shot at getting a cab quicker."

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