The Driver’s Side: Top 10 NYC Cabbie Complaints About Passengers

November 07, 2011 at 4:00 am

Phillip Chen has been driving a cab in New York City for 38 years. He would like passengers to remember that he is a cabbie, not a shrink. MetroFocus/Matt Draper

Passengers love to complain about the blaring televisions, aggressive driving and the cost of New York City’s 100,000-plus taxicab and limousine drivers. But what do they say about us, the riders? MetroFocus hit the road to find out. Sure enough, cab drivers take issue with a lot of things we passengers do. So, we asked them for the top 10 ways we could give them an easier ride:

#1 Cabbie Complaint: Respect the Boundaries — We’re Not Your Couples Therapist or Your Punching Bag

      • Road-rage isn’t just for drivers; no one likes an angry passenger who is rude or mean. Phillip Chen, 71, a Taiwan native who’s been navigating New Yorkers around the city for 38 years, complained that if passenger anger is misdirected at them, drivers are unable to defend themselves for fear of either getting stiffed when it’s tipping time or of being reported to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

      Islam Muhammad, 48, a taxi driver from Bangladesh, said it makes him uncomfortable when passengers get intimate in the backseat while he is driving. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

        • Chen added that drivers sometimes end up in the middle of a lovers’ spat and have to remain silent. “You’re not happy with your girlfriend or boyfriend so you take it out on the cab driver,” he said.  That’s just as unpleasant and awkward for drivers as it would be for anyone you know in the room with you.
        • Islam Muhammad, 48, a Bangladeshi taxi driver who has been on the road for 10 years, said it’s especially tough to drive at night because passengers tend to act more inappropriately then.  “My home country is Muslim so when I first came here, I was shocked by couples having sex or kissing in the backseat,” Muhammad said. “Now I just say ‘cool down,’ it’s a personal problem and we’re all human.”

        #2 Cabbie Complaint: Please Turn Down the TV

        Chery Lavilarire has been driving a cab for 28 years. Lavilarire asks you to turn down Taxi TV right away. MetroFocus/Matt Draper.

        Last week, the two companies behind Taxi TV, which has been available in all yellow cabs since 2007, announced plans to decrease the maximum volume of the monitors and to make user controls (i.e. the mute button) easier to find. But in the meantime, drivers ask you to do your part and set the volume low as soon as possible. First, it helps drivers confirm your destination and desired route. Second — and some passengers surely agree — for drivers, Taxi TV is a monotonous earful. “It will drive you crazy,” said Chery Lavilarire, 57, a Haitian-born cabbie who’s been driving for 28 years. “It’s the same thing over and over. You can’t turn it off.”

        Jimmy Tio has been driving a taxi in New York since he moved from Indonesia two years ago. He said there's no need to give him directions; he knows the city better than most natives, thank you very much. MetroFocus/Matt Draper.

        #3 Cabbie Complaint: Stop With the Backseat Driving

        “They [passengers] complain all the time. ‘Why did you take this street?’” said cabbie Jimmy Tio, 38, noting that this is especially true when he turns onto a street under construction. “I’m not God, I didn’t know it was shut down! I’m not dishonest. They think drivers are cheating.” On the contrary, said Tio, it’s in every driver’s interest to get to each passenger’s destination as quick as possible so they can grab another fare.






        Fellow cabbie Iddrisu Alhassan also complained of pushy passengers: “I picked up this lady in Times Square and she told me to take a left but I couldn’t because it [the street] was shut down,” said Alhassan, 38, a Ghanaian-born resident of the South Bronx. “I couldn’t make a left but she wasn’t hearing it and she was swearing and calling me names.”

        #4 Cabbie Complaint: Speaking of Backseats, Four’s a Crowd

        Most of the drivers we talked to complained that when people try to fit a fourth passenger into the backseat, their rear view mirror is blocked. That makes it unsafe for everyone in the vehicle. Instead, if there is a fourth passenger, that person should always ride up front with the driver.

        #5 Cabbie Complaint: Don’t Demand the Driver “Step on it”

        Drivers hate being told to hurry, or worse, to “Step on it.” Your driver has been in traffic all day and likely has a better idea of which streets are congested than you do. Just hang tight. Don’t ask them to break the law by speeding, running red lights or making illegal turns. It’s dangerous and reflects badly on the cab industry.

        #6 Cabbie Complaint: Don’t Abuse Your Rights as a Passenger

        When passengers refuse to pay or can’t pay their fares, drivers’ only recourse is to call the police.

        However, said driver Alhassan, once a driver calls the police, a passenger will often contact the Taxi and Limousine Commission to complain and try to have the driver’s taxi license away. In addition, the Taxi and Limousine Commission often fines drivers who have been reported by a passenger, regardless of fault, said Alhassan. He added that it often takes the police up to an hour to arrive and the loss in potential fares  is not worth the wait.

        The upshot?  Weigh carefully the consequences of tattling on drivers and remember that you’re tampering with people’s livelihoods.

        #7 Cabbie Complaint: Be Clear About Your Destination and Don’t Make Last-Minute Decisions

        “I don’t like when people say, ‘Quick, turn left! Quick, get over there!’ I can’t do that. I’m not driving a bicycle!” said Manuel Valdez, who’s been hearing last-minute instructions for the 27 years he’s been a cab driver.

        Manuel Valdez has been driving a yellow cab for 27 years. He's tired of passengers' last-minute direction changes. MetroFocus/Bridget Leahy.

        #8 Cabbie Complaint: Follow These Tips on Tipping

        • No need to quarrel: Many passengers immediately complain about a cabbie’s driving or pick a fight to get out of tipping, said Chen. “When they start a fight I tell them, ‘Stop that,'” Chen said. “‘I don’t want to fight with you. Don’t tip me. I don’t care.'”
        • Blame the MTA for the fare charge: “The MTA charges the 50-cents,” said Lavilarire, explaining that many passengers assume the 50-cent tax goes to the drivers. “Passengers get pissed off and don’t tip.”
        • Don’t be cheap: One of Chen’s recent passengers didn’t have any money to pay once they arrived at his destination (an $18 fare). “The guy gave me his number and said to call him and he’d pay me later,” Chen said. “I called him and he acted like he didn’t know who I was.”

        #9 Cabbie Complaint: It’s Your Duty to Understand “Off-duty”

        Several drivers mentioned the challenge of getting holed up in their cabs for hours without a bathroom break or getting pestered for a ride while eating lunch.

        “They don’t understand off-duty,” said Lasker Mohammed, 35, a Bangladeshi native who lives in Sunnyside, Queens. He’s been driving a taxi in New York for four years since switching careers; he used to work in the restaurant business. He owns his own cab, but occasionally needs respite from its small confines. “Sometimes I have to take a break or relax. That’s why I work in a cab. I have my own freedom.”

        Lasker Mohammed wishes prospective passengers would not harass him for a ride when his cab's roof-light shows that he is “off-duty." Sometimes a guy needs a break, he said. MetroFocus/Matt Draper.

        #10 Cabbie Complaint: Drunk Passengers Are a Hassle

        Consider the following sub-categories:

        • You may be having fun, but it’s on their tab: New York City law states that cab drivers can refuse to pick up passengers who appear to be visibly intoxicated. Even so, most of the drivers we talked to said that they’ve had to deal with drunk passengers who were incoherent, fell and hurt themselves, vomited in the back of their vehicles or stumbled off into the night without paying. That’s often the worst part of the job, from the driver’s side.

        John Farley, Daniella Greenbaum and Bridget Leahy contributed reporting.

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        MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Judy and Josh Weston, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Rosalind P. Walter, Jody and John Arnhold and the Metropolitan Media Fund. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America, your retirement company.

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