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"Gypsy"/Unlicensed NYC cabs: read before you ever think about using one...

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"Gypsy"/Unlicensed NYC cabs: read before you ever think about using one...

Old Mar 20th, 2005, 06:53 PM
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"Gypsy"/Unlicensed NYC cabs: read before you ever think about using one...

Just in case travellers to NYC haven't heard to avoid the "gypsy" or unlicensed cabs that solicit you in airports or under other situations where getting a yellow cab is difficult-- please read this first!

This weekend I planned to take the Airtrain to JFK, but on arriving at Jamaica Station, was told by Transit workers that an Airtrain was stuck and no trains had moved for 40 minutes and they had no idea when it would be fixed. A disaster for all those people stuck there trying to get to flights.

Everyong was trying to get cabs, and there were none in sight. During the exodus from the Airtrain Station, I met up with 2 college students (who didn't know NYC)-- we were accosted by an (obvious to me) unlicensed driver. I knew it was risky but there was NO other options, and we were all going to miss our flights and be stuck overnight. We refused the driver's first price however ($45! From Jamaica Station! In a 20 year old, filthy sedan!) and he agreed to a lower price ($30)-- still outrageous, but with the clock ticking, we agreed.

Of course, as soon as we were moving, the driver demanded $45 again. (this is the gypsy cab modus operandi)....we told him we would only pay the previously agreed price, or he could stop the car and drop us off immediately. He said "OK, OK" and kept driving. Because I feared the driver would hold our luggage in the trunk hostage, I whispered to the kid next to me that we didn't pay a cent until we had all our luggage out of the car, and that his job was to get the luggage. I also retrieved a pen and my cell phone from my bag.

As expected, When we got to the terminal, the driver demanded payment-- the higher amount we had refused. We told him to get our bags out of the trunk before we would pay. He said "NO. You pay me now." We showed him the money and asked again to open the trunk (we were still in the cab). He refused, and locked the cab doors, so we could not get out! Since I had previous (bad!) experience with these gypsy drivers, I just reached over and unlocked the one door that had a passenger accessibly lock, quickly opened the door, told one of the college kids to get out, handed him a pen, and told him (in a loud voice this time) to write down the license plate number of the car, on his hand, since we had no time to fumble around for paper.
The driver heard this, and knew his game was up...because fortunately, we were at an airport, which these days are swarming with parking police and real police. I was pretty confident that as long as we had his license plate, he would open the trunk and let us get our luggage. Which he did, as he cursed a blue streak. Once we had the luggage and were all out of the car, I did throw the $30 on the seat-- we did agree to pay him that amount. I still regret NOT getting the license number and reporting him, because I hate to think of him victimizing and intimidating other travellers. This worked out for us-- we were a group with 2 tall athletic guys and we were pretty well prepared for his scam-- but a person alone wouldn't have a chance. More naive travellers would almost certainly been intimidated when he locked the car doors and refused to open the trunk/get the luggage until paid his extortionate request.

So the first lesson:
NEVER take an unlicensed cab or car on the street. If it's not a yellow cab with a meter, or one you call from a reputable car service, just don't do it. It you are EVER in a situation where it looks like the only option, it might be better to miss your flight. We were going to a busy, secure area with lots of police around---don't ever consider taking them to places that are not!! If you do decide to take the risk, (and I do NOT recommend that you do) make sure you only do it in a group, with a cell phone in hand...Make a plan...GET THE CARS LICENSE PLATE NUMBER BEFORE YOU GET IN THE CAR!!! If at all possible, keep all luggage with you in the car, even if it is a tight, uncomfortable fit. Make sure passenger door locks are operable by you. Unlock, and open the doors as soon as you arrive!

You know...it's better to avoid these situations altogether. Just don't do it!!
tashak is offline  
Old Mar 20th, 2005, 07:22 PM
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Please don;t think that all car services fall within this group. Except for the ariports there are very few yellow cabs in the outer boroughs and usually your only option is a car service. And when they're not on call they do cruise the streets for fares (they even do this in most of Manhattan - outside of Midtown - where there are plenty of cabs).

The trick is to look for one that is reliable. If the car looks in fairly good shape and clean - and if it has a sticker with car service info on the bumper (name and phone number) you should be fine. The ones that cause trouble are the true gypsies - affiliated with no one and making their own rules.

Also - do not take any car service car from the airport unless you have called them. It is illegal to pick up passengers unless they have been specifically called - and they usually take advantage of naive travelers with outrageous charges.
nytraveler is offline  
Old Mar 21st, 2005, 03:53 AM
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Good advice tashak. Hope those kids thanked you. Hope you made your plane.
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Old Mar 21st, 2005, 05:28 AM
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Just so you know, there are several New York City buses that serve JFK airport directly from Jamaica Station in addition to the Airtrain. Someone in the subway station or the Airtrain station there should have been able to direct you to one of several alternatives. And that would have cost only $2.
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Old Mar 21st, 2005, 06:52 AM
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"The trick is to look for one that is reliable. If the car looks in fairly good shape and clean - and if it has a sticker with car service info on the bumper (name and phone number) you should be fine. The ones that cause trouble are the true gypsies - affiliated with no one and making their own rules."

So in other words there is no such thing as a "smart" gypsie cab driver who to fool the usual victims has figured out that if he keeps his car neat and clean he can more easily fool more people?

I think the best advice is to avoid all cabs that aren't regular marked and licensed ones. To think that someone can look at either a driver or their car and "know" whether it is a crook or not, is pretty naive thinking.
Patrick is offline  
Old Mar 21st, 2005, 09:38 AM
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Patrick -

In most of NYC getting a yellow cab is not an option - there simply aren't enough of them - and they congregate in mid and downtown Manhattan. If you live in other areas you have no choice but to use car services/gypsies (any car service car that picks up a fare without a prior phone call is acting as a gypsy).

I live on the upper west side - and often you can;t get a cab here but can get a "gypsy" sedan. I have done this literally thousands of times and have never had a problem - by only using cars in good shape from what appear to be reputable companies.

(Cars from all the car services reco'd here for ariport transfers - as well as many similiar - Carmel, Tel Aviv. Jersualem, Haifa etc - act as gypsies when there's not enough phone business - cruising the streets and looking for fares. If you take one of these you should be fine.)
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Old Mar 21st, 2005, 10:19 PM
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I asked one of the MTA "helpers" in the station about other options, and they did not mention the bus! (Perhaps because it was Saturday with less frequent service?) Or perhaps because it would take too long, given that we were all at risk of missing flights (I bet this would have been the case)...or perhaps because they just don't know...

Unfortunately, I heard (at the airport) that the Airtrain has been extremely unreliable lately. Guess you have to now leave enough time to take the bus when the Airtrain breaks down. Sigh...
tashak is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2005, 10:21 AM
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There are two kinds of "gypsy" cabs.

The first one is a car service that is legally only allowed to provide door-to-door services. But sometimes they do "street pick ups" when business is slow.

The other gypst cab is a guy who has a car and is offering to drive you anywhere for a fee, private enterprise. They are the ones who you need to watch out for.

Most car services have a TLC (Taxi, Limo Commission??) licence plate and a licence on the front window of the car.

I live in Astoria (Queens) and I "pick up" car services on the street all the time. The thing you need to know is you gotta ask how much the fare is before getting in. Once you have negotiated the price, you're fine.

With all that said, the yellow cab is the safest. But they can be dirty and tight. Car services usually use Lincoln Town Cars so they are very spacious, with leather seats, and no-smelly, cell phone talking driver.

Car services and yellow cabs are like sitting in 1st Class vs. coach in aeroplanes.

mingtsainy is offline  
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