Don’t Take Cabs. You’re Better Than That!

New_York_TaxiI’ve already told you the most important way to save money in New York City. Now for the easiest way.




You are out late at night. You’re tired and you just want to get home. You think the easiest way is to grab a cab. You won’t have to worry about getting cross-town or switching subway lines. It will be SO much faster, you say to yourself as you sink into the leather backseat. I get it. It’s the easy choice. But it’s not worth it.

The obvious and not so obvious costs of taxis are absolutely terrible. Let’s START by going through the math. Let’s look at someone who takes 5 cabs in a week. First of all, I know people that take 5 cabs in a weekEND, so I am being conservative here.

First of all, a taxi will charge you $2.50 for the right to sit down. If it’s after-work rush hour, there is a $1 surcharge or $.50 for a ride after 8pm. Then there is a $.50 tax charge.  You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re no closer to home than before you got in the cab and you have thrown away up to $4 already!

Then, you pay $2 for each mile. We already know that, as New Yorkers, we are expert walkers. So it’s safe to say that you’re probably traveling more than 1 mile if you decide to hail a cab. On top of the $2 for every mile, it’s $2 for every 5 minutes you sit at a traffic light! Want to know how many traffic lights there are in New York? 12,460! Sure, in Manhattan, they are timed pretty well, but you will definitely be paying something for time stopped at them, ESPECIALLY if you are going cross-town.

I am going to be REALLY generous in our example and say that our test subject is only taking rides within Manhattan. No bridges or tunnels. No tolls. No extra charges for leaving the boroughs. And no issues with cabs (illegally) refusing to pick you up because your destination is too far away. Needless to say, the cost in the situation I am about to propose could be a LOT higher.

Let’s say, on average, you are traveling 5 miles, late at night. You are only stopped at traffic lights for 5 minutes (holy cow, you lucked out!) You just took a $15.50 cab ride. But wait, you have to tip. Under no circumstances should you stiff your cab driver on tip. You were the one that made the choice to take the cab. Personally, I would tip $3-4 on this ride, but from what people tell me, $2.50 is more normal.

Average Total Cab Cost: $18

Cost for 5 cab rides per week: $90

Cost per year: $4,680

Now, that $4,680 is in after-tax money. Just to illustrate my point, think about your current salary. By switching from taking these cabs to giving them up (in pre-tax money) you are giving yourself a $5,350 raise, approximately. Imagine if you walked in to work tomorrow and your boss told you that you were getting a $5k raise. That is exciting! The best part is that if you find yourself cabbing too much, you can give yourself that raise today by giving your hailing hand a rest and taking the subway!

“Come on Mr. NYBudget”, you say, “you’re always asking us to sacrifice and make our lives more difficult for the sake of saving”. I admit that it’s easier to decide to take a cab. However, after you make that decision, the actual process isn’t always as convenient (or quick) as you think.

Taking a Cab:

Step 1: Hailing a Cab – Sometimes you get lucky and there are plenty of cabs. However, in my cab-taking days, I OFTEN found myself in an area that didn’t have cabs rolling by or had so many people that competing for a cab made the process a struggle from the start.

Step 2: Getting in the Cab – It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you will get in a cab that smells TERRIBLE. And you are stuck there. Sure, you could get out and go through the hailing process again (sacrificing another $3-$4 just to sit down), but either way, you are screwed.

Step 3: Traveling – This may be a personal preference, but I am MUCH more likely to feel nauseated in a cab (terrible shocks, aggressive driving, other cars) than I am in the subway. Not to mention “the cab close call” or “cab crash”! Every new Yorker has a story.

Step 4: Arrival – Phew, you finally made it! And 9 times out of 10, faster than you would have if you had taken the subway. But not THAT much faster. Traffic in New York is bad and you never know how long it will take you. Is saving 10 minutes really worth all this?

I will admit that traveling by subway is nowhere near perfect. The MTA has its delays and struggles, but I actually think the experience is BETTER and you can’t argue the cost.

Taking the Subway:

Step 1: Waiting for Train – Sometimes this can be a long wait, no doubt. But at least you don’t have to out-maneuver other people. You don’t have to “hail” a subway car. And, unlike when hailing a cab, you can bring a book!

Step 2: Getting on the Train – The potential of entering a gross subway car is a very pungent reality (you all know what I’m talking about). But, there are also warning signs. Here’s a tip – if one train car is significantly less crowded than all the others, there is probably something wrong with it. You can avoid this smelly situation altogether (if you’re paying attention). And if you do get stuck in a terrible cabin, you’re only one short stop away from being able to switch.

Step 3: Traveling – This is the biggest downside, especially late at night. For people that have to switch subway lines, it can definitely add some time to your journey. BUT…

Step 4: Arrival – Every once in a while, you will actually BEAT someone who took a cab. I have seen it happen and have done it myself. Most often, you will not, but you won’t be too far behind. And you will have a fatter wallet at the end of the day.

So my suggestion? NEVER take a cab, it’s not worth it. Yes, there are the rare emergency occasions when you should. But being lazy is not an emergency.

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14 thoughts on “Don’t Take Cabs. You’re Better Than That!

  1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life December 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I NEVER take cabs but the boyfriend does ALL the time. He lives up in Inwood cause it’s cheap, but with all those cabs he takes, he probably winds up spending more than I do to live.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted: Budget Travel: 3 Days in San DiegoMy Profile

    • Mr NYBudget December 15, 2013 at 4:17 am

      Yep – cabs can be a drain. It’s also worth noting that even if you are saving money in some other way (living in Inwood, etc), saving MORE money while still living a good life is a great thing. Too many people save in one area of their life and use that to excuse their financial behavior elsewhere.

  2. Richie @ Practical Cents December 15, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Great post! I’ve never been a fan of cabs. Becoming familiar with the NYC subway map very well is a great skill to have. It’s also important to be aware of how the city grid is set up, with 5th Ave dividing the East and West side avenues. Growing up in NYC, I have always used the subway lines and they are definitely the cheapest and fastest way to get around (unless you only need to walk a few blocks to get from point A to point B).
    Richie @ Practical Cents recently posted: My Frugal Christmas TreeMy Profile

  3. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply December 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    I can count on my hand how many times I have taken a cab in Manhattan. I probably don’t even know proper taxi cab hailing procedure. Although I think the example of being out late was the main reason I took the cabs. Sometimes being tired or possibly inebriated, trains running slow, being in a sketchier area…and going to one…I can see taking a cab. But during the day, the only time I’ve taken a cab is from an airport.

    • Mr NYBudget December 17, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Agreed. And even at night, with a little planning beforehand, you can avoid situations where you feel the need to take a cab.

  4. Justin @ RootofGood December 19, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    We visited New York for a week and never took a cab. We stayed in a hotel by the airport (JFK I think) and took a bus to the Jamaica stop where we caught the train to Manhattan. If you’re just traveling in Manhattan, the trains and buses seem to run everywhere, and very often. It would be hard to pony up $18 just to trim 10-15 minutes or so off my trip home.
    Justin @ RootofGood recently posted: Argentina and Uruguay Trip Part 1 – MontevideoMy Profile

  5. Danny January 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Completely agree with you and thanks for writing this! From an early age I remember one person that I used to work for say that taxis are “an expensive habit”. It’s so true…even now. I know a few people that are like the person in your example, taking 5 cab rides a week, give or take. When I’m in the city it’s always walking and subways for me 🙂

    • Mr NYBudget January 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      I even surprised myself when I did the math. And I know people that take cabs even more often than that! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  6. Debby January 5, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I only take cabs if I can expense them for work, and only when I can explain why I took them. I laughed out loud with how to avoid smelly subway carts. I learned that one the hard way – lol.
    Debby recently posted: Day 83 – I Accidentally Bought a Chicken Lasagna!My Profile

    • Mr NYBudget January 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Same – I remember how lucky I thought I was to find the only empty one on the whole train! Whoops.

  7. Roger@lifelaidout January 18, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Yeah I totally agree that cabs are typically NOT worth it. I usually don’t take them because 1) they are expensive, 2) I get car sick easily and 3) the subway goes everywhere I really need to go.

    • Mr NYBudget January 18, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Last night I was out late at a friend’s apartment for a party. Another friend and I left at the same time as I did and I asked him to text me when he got home to check the timing. Based on where he lives, I estimated that a cab would have gotten me home about 7 minutes faster. This is at about 1am and I had to make 2 transfers!

      And you’re right – the car sickness factor is WAY worse in a NYC cab than any other vehicle I have ever been in.

  8. Leslie Beslie January 22, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Although anxiety can hinder life, we tend to keep it around because it also helps us. Unfortunately/fortunately, anxiety saves me money all the time! Cabs are a perfect example of this. I can take the subway without talking to a single soul. But with a cab I need to: be aggressive enough to catch one, tell the driver where I’m going, make sure he’s going the right/efficient way, make sure I have enough money to pay, not sure what to leave for a tip, tell him when I’ve reached the destination, and spend money. That is a lot of effort! Much rather fall asleep on the train.
    Leslie Beslie recently posted: 2014 Budget Template & Personal Finance SpreadsheetMy Profile

    • Mr NYBudget January 22, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Great point! It’s definitely one of those things you get better at and more comfortable with as you do it more often. But then again, why would you WANT to get more comfortable with it!

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