Someone Tipped $859 In A Cab, And Other Crazy Taxi Stories

Have you ever gotten into a cab and thought that the cab driver was so incredible that he deserved a $859 tip? No? Yeah, I haven’t either. But last year, someone did.

Back in March, a talented “data junkie” named Chris Whong made a Freedom of Information Act request for the data from all of New York’s taxi rides in 2013, and subsequently released it to the world wide web. We poked through it and found a few interesting tidbits.

Someone tipped $859.50 on a $56 taxi at 5 a.m.

What kind of person would leave a tip like this? Perhaps a high-ranking politician? Maybe a governor was blabbing on the phone in the back of a taxi about being how he loves getting reelected whilst being demonstrably corrupt. Then, realizing that his cabbie was privy to this unsightly gloating, he slid some hefty plastic through the credit card machine in exchange for the driver’s tight lips. Either that or the driver just gives unbelievable fellatio. As the saying goes: "A moment on the lips, an eight-hundred dollar tip”, or something.

It’s a thing to tip $200 on a flat fare to JFK Airport.

“I’m flying to New York and back just for a laugh,” the young businessman from Wichita told his secretary. “Make sure you fill my suitcase with hundred dollar bills and load my wallet with company cards, because I want to paint the town green. When I’m through, no one will forget the name of the big shot from Kansas!” I don't know the name of the businessman in question, unfortunately, but I hope he made it back safely to Wichita.

The most successful taxi earns $316,000 a year.

Excluding a few outliers (one car seems to have made an impossible $900,000 with an average fare of $50), the highest earning car made $316,144.67 last year. Most taxis only make about $230,000, in case you were curious. The super-taxi managed to make 22,735 trips in 2013 and had an average fare of $13.91, close to the average for all taxi fares. Don’t jump out of your seat and back into a cab driver’s seat just yet though. One taxi is usually shared among multiple drivers because taxi medallions are expensive, so, unfortunately, even the best cab driver in New York won’t be pulling in anything near $300,000 a year.

One woman went to Massachusetts in a cab and refused to pay the $980 fare.

Although this didn't happen in 2013 (the period that's covered by the data), it's worth noting that in February 2014, one woman got a New York cab to drive her all the way to Massachusetts and then didn’t pay the driver. Denise Rebelato told her driver, "money is not an obstacle," and then proceeded to call him a moron and scream at him for four hours as he drove to Framingham, Massachusetts, a town famous for being the hometown of Roger Clemens (now famous for being the home of Denise Rebelato). She said that her failure to pay was intended to be "a message to Obama." The message came through quite clearly: she's completely insane.

Three percent of people who use credit cards are dicks.

Three percent of the people who used credit cards to pay their fares are so fantastically parsimonious that they made the extra effort to type a big ol’ zero into the tip amount when they were paying. This is the kind of person who hails Tiny Tim’s taxi when he’s near the end of his shift on Christmas Eve and insists that Tim drive him out to an obscure part of Queens whilst furtively throwing up in the back of the cab.

Someone paid $1000 to go to Stuyvesant Town.

At the end of a long day of travel, sometimes you just want to kick back, relax, and pay a taxi driver $1000 just because you feel like it. That's what someone did when they got picked up from LaGuardia airport and got driven to Stuyvesant Town. Personally, I would pay $1000 for someone to take me out of Stuytown. But that's just a matter of taste.

What starts in Manhattan stays in Manhattan.
This heatmap shows the average distance traveled per trip, by pickup location. In Manhattan, the average trip is pretty consistently about one mile—note the large reddish-yellow region. In other words, the vast majority of trips that originate in Manhattan stay in Manhattan (the island is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at its widest, near 14th street). I’d like to think that that’s because people who get taxis in Manhattan are big fans of the 1979 Woody Allen film Manhattan, or that they like to drink Manhattans, a cocktail consisting of whiskey, vermouth and bitters, and they don’t want to leave the namesake of their movie, or cocktail-based obsession.

The notable exceptions to this are the northern and southern tips of the island—Wall Streeters and Inwooders apparently like to visit each other...a lot. Maybe they like the 1987 movie Wall Street? Unfortunately, I don’t know any cocktails or movies that make reference to Inwood.

The most #basic cab ride:

We searched the data for the most common trips in 2013 by location, and found out:

Penn Station is by far the most popular pickup location—it's nearly twice as popular as the next most common (LaGuardia). Nothing says New York like riding in a taxi past a hoard of homeless people. Penn Station is also the most commonly occurring drop off location, because sometimes you just crave a slice of Sbarro pizza that’s been cooked underground.

This is not to say that the most commonly occurring trip is the one that both originates and ends at Penn Station—that would be stupid. The most commonly occurring trip is from Grand Central to Penn Station. Which is still pretty stupid. Take the shuttle to the 2/3, man!

The average taxi fare is $14.82, which sounds like the amount I'd expect from an unnecessary cab ride to a bar in Chinatown at two in the morning. 

The average tip is $1.37. That's slightly above nine percent of $14.82, the average fare. It seems like more of us are Scrooges than Tiny Tim sympathizers, sadly. Or maybe we just need the extra few dollars to buy Manhattans at that bar in Chinatown.

For the most part, you’re not going to see too much of this in your average New York taxi ride, unless you’re a politician with a thing for taxi drivers, or you’re a secret billionaire living in Stuytown.

What you’re most likely to see is a Taxi TV ad for a midtown steakhouse with a close-up of an unending waterfall of drizzling sauce.

Colin Stokes is a man with a plan. Except it’s a French plan, which means “map,” and he’s completely lost. When he’s not trying to find his way back to the English-speaking world before he dies from consuming too much wine and cheese, he writes humor for The New Yorker. Read his articles there, here.

Charlie Hack has memorized Python backwards in case he’s ever pulled over for coding whilst driving. He takes an average of 3.47 taxis a day and no longer tips because apparently that's normal. See his data analysis for this article here, and his Github here.