Know your rights when traveling by taxis and ridesharing. Learn tips and tricks to make your trip easier with Travelers United.
Taxis, Limousines and Airport Shuttles and Passenger Rights
Nearly every city and town has at least one traditional taxi or limousine company. All taxi services can either be summoned via a phone call (if you don’t know the number, you can find it by Googling, looking in the local yellow pages, or asking the staff at an airport, hotel, restaurant, museum or other location) or by standing at a designated taxi stand at an airport, large hotel, train or bus station, convention center or similar location. In some major cities, taxis can be hailed at any point on the street anywhere where there’s significant pedestrian traffic. Simply wait for a taxi to drive by with a light or sign indicating it’s available (either a dome light on or a sign reading “Taxi For Hire”) and hold up your hand to signal the driver. It’s important to know your passenger rights.
Most taxi services are directly regulated by the local (either city or county) Taxi and Limousine Commission or similar agency, while in a handful of states (such as Nevada), they are directly regulated by the state government. These regulatory bodies require taxis to be specially licensed (and in some cases to have medallions), drivers to meet certain qualifications, the driver and/or vehicle owner to carry commercial insurance, and that either an approved fare meter or a zone system (wherein the fare is determined based on the number of zones traversed) be used.
Taxis are required by law and your passenger rights to take the passenger to the destination the passenger instructs the driver to go to, even if the destination is outside of the regulating commission’s jurisdiction. However, they are generally only allowed to pick up passengers within the regulating jurisdiction’s boundaries. The taxi must take you to the door of the specified address (as part of your passenger rights), unless the door is inaccessible due to construction, restricted entry, or other obstruction. Note that it is generally more difficult to find a cab during inclement weather, and taxis are required to charge higher fares when the local government declares a snow emergency or other exigency, such as for a major event where large crowds are expected.
In most cases, taxis are required to display the driver’s ID, the vehicle or registration number, and a list of rules and passenger rights in the rear passenger area, usually on the back of the driver’s or front passenger’s seat. The majority of taxis nowadays also accept credit card payment — there will either be a place to swipe your card in the rear passenger area, or you will hand your card to the driver — but all accept cash, and a few only accept cards. Tipping is customary — you should add 10% to 20% to the final fare, depending on the quality of service, and you are free not to tip if the driver was rude or unresponsive to your requests. In some cities, if you pay by credit card, the screen will prompt you to select a percentage, based on which it will automatically calculate the tip.
Limousines or black cars are generally reserved for corporate or group contract transportation, but are occasionally available for hailing by phone or at a large venue similar to taxis, though they will charge higher fares and generally will not use meters. Many airport authorities have exclusive contracts with a particular limousine or shuttle company, which will be the only company authorized to pick up passengers for hire at that airport (SuperShuttle is one such company that operates at several airports). As a consequence of the lack of competition at these airports, these companies’ fares will generally be very high. (Note that even if an airport restricts pick-ups to a particular company, any for-hire vehicle may drop you off at the airport.)
All complaints about the quality of service from a regulated taxi or limousine company (which can range in size from hundreds of cars to a single sole-proprietor vehicle and driver) should be made to the local Taxi and Limousine Commission. Nearly all of these commissions have a telephone hotline and/or email or Webform complaint line set up for this purpose, which can be found through Web search, or on the signage that vehicle owners are required to post inside the vehicle. If the commission is unresponsive to your complaint, you may take it to the elected governing body (mayor, county executive, city council or county commission) of the jurisdiction in which the commission is housed.
Transportation Network Companies
Within the past decade, several new companies rooted in mobile Internet technology have arisen to compete with taxis by offering for-hire rides to users of the company’s smartphone app. These are known as ridesharing or ride-hailing services. The two major national (and international) ridesharing companies are Uber and Lyft. A minor national one is Sidecar, and there are a few smaller local or regional companies. For all of these companies, you must have the company’s app installed on your smartphone and linked to your credit card, and the app figures the fare and charges your credit card automatically based on the distance and travel time, as determined by GPS tracking of your driver’s mobile device.
To hail a ride, open the app, either enter the address of your pick-up point or move the map so that the pin is centered on the exact pick-up location, then tap “Request.” In some cases you will be asked to also enter the address or name of the destination, and it is helpful to do so (and necessary if you would like a fare estimate), though you can also tell the driver your destination once you get in. No money is exchanged at the end of the ride — the app charges your card, including for your chosen tip (if applicable).
Uber offers six classes of service (not all of which are available in all the cities it covers): UberX (which uses individual drivers’ mid-sized economy brands of cars), UberXL (which uses slightly larger economy cars), UberBlack (using licensed luxury brands or black cars), UberSUV (using large black SUVs), UberTaxi (which uses traditional local taxi companies that are partnered with Uber, with Uber charging your card the meter fare) and UberPool (which will pair you with other riders going in your general direction and save up to 40% off the UberX fare but may take longer, as the driver may have to go a bit out of your way to pick up or drop off other passengers). Uber does not allow tipping — only the base fare plus a “Safe Rides Fee” and any applicable local taxes are charged, and most drivers will refuse a cash tip if offered.
Lyft offers only three classes of service: Lyft (similar to UberX), Lyft Plus (similar to UberXL) and Lyft Line (similar to UberPool). Lyft is ostensibly a more personable service than Uber, with your account linked to your Facebook profile and where you are welcome to sit in the front seat and give the driver a fist bump. Some Lyft cars wear the distinctive pink moustache on the front. While Lyft’s fares are generally comparable to or slightly higher than Uber’s, Lyft does allow and encourage tipping, which is done through the app upon completion of the trip.
For both Uber and Lyft, when you open the app at the completion of the trip, you will see the fare charged and will be given the opportunity to rate your ride on a scale of 1 to 5 stars and provide a brief comment, which will be shared with the company and may later be shared anonymously with the driver. (With Lyft, you’ll be given the opportunity to select a tip percentage or amount at the same time.) Drivers who consistently receive less than 5 star ratings will be contacted by the company and put under closer scrutiny, and those receiving 3 stars or less consistently will be terminated immediately.
If you decide to cancel your ride after you have requested it, for both Uber and Lyft, you may do so free of charge within five minutes after confirming your request. If you cancel after five minutes, you will be charged a cancellation fee. If you are a no-show (if your driver pulls up to your origin location and you are not there within 3 to 5 minutes), the driver will cancel the ride and you’ll be charged the approximate full cost of the ride. The wait times are reduced and no-show penalties increased for UberPool and Lyft Line, as your tardiness inconveniences both the driver and fellow passengers. If the driver cancels your ride for whatever reason before arriving at your location, regardless of the duration of the wait, you will not be charged. The driver will generally attempt to call you if you are not at your pick-up location when he or she arrives.
Both Uber and Lyft are responsive to customer feedback, which can only be provided in writing through the app. If there is a dispute between you and your driver, the company will almost always take your side. Uber is known as being particularly rider-friendly, while Lyft is more balanced between rider and driver. Both companies are headquartered in San Francisco. Ridesharing services are generally not directly regulated by taxi and limousine commissions and, if they are, are not treated the same way as traditional taxis — a situation that has caused considerable controversy and opposition amongst taxi drivers and their unions. Uber and Lyft have been barred from operating in certain jurisdictions, and others are attempting to heavily restrict their operations, though the ride-hailing services often find ways around these regulations.
Both Uber and Lyft have a practice whereby fares are multiplied (anywhere from 25% higher to three times as high) during times of high demand, as gauged by a complex algorithm based on the number of users with the app open seeking available drivers at any given time, and the number of available drivers. Uber calls this “surge pricing,” and Lyft calls it “prime time.” It is done to give drivers who are offline an incentive to make themselves available. Once more drivers come online, the elevated pricing will be reduced or end. Both apps will generally notify you that there is elevated pricing when you open the app. If not, in the case of Uber, look for a small blue lightning bolt symbol next to the name of the service (i.e. UberX), which will indicate that surge pricing is in effect for that service. Elevated pricing most often occurs when the weather is inclement, late at night when people are leaving bars (particularly on holidays like New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day), and before and after large events with big crowds.
Finally, Sidecar (which only operates in a handful of US cities) operates quite differently from Uber and Lyft. When you open the app, you will be asked to put in your origin and destination. It will then present you with a list of drivers available to handle your specified itinerary with a photo of the driver’s face and one of his or her car, the price each will charge for your ride, and how many minutes away (approximately) each one is. When you select your preferred car and driver and tap “Request,” you will be locked in to the selected price, regardless of the route taken and the travel time. At the completion of the ride, you’ll be given an opportunity to select a tip and rate your driver.
Remember to think about your passenger rights next time you are faced with a dilemma and file a complaint to the appropriate company.