Early one morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few months ago, I hopped in a cab and asked the driver to take me to Logan Airport, eight miles away. He asked me how to get there. That was the first bad sign. The second bad sign was that he abruptly changed his mind about needing my help and decided to chart the course himself. Thirty minutes later, we were still in the car, making a beeline for Rhode Island. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Not long before, another out-to-lunch driver had piloted the trip to Logan at a pace so slow, I actually had to check to see if he was awake.
The point of all this is not that Boston-area cabdrivers are horrific. It’s my anecdotal “Exhibit A” in the case of Simon van Zuylen-Wood v. All the Delusional Philadelphians Who Don’t Appreciate Their Fantastic Taxis. Bitching about cabs in Philly is roughly on par with Yay, the Shore and Boo, Phillies when it comes to broad, unspecific elevator-ride utterances nobody will ever disagree with.
Let me be the first to do so. I’ve lived in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. And in the year and a half that I’ve been in Philly, I submit, forcefully and earnestly, the taxis here have been vastly superior to those in the other major metropoles that line the I-95 corridor.
Let’s start with price: They’re cheaper. A Philly cab ride will cost you $2.30 per mile. New York: $2.50. Boston: $2.80. D.C.’s per-mile charge is surprisingly lite, at $2.16, which is great until you read the fine print. For example, you’ll be charged $3.25 before the meter even starts — a “flag drop” that’s 55 cents more expensive than Philly’s. Add a host of ludicrous fees — $2 for a “telephone dispatch,” $1 for an additional passenger, etc. — and you’ll see that our nation’s capital is once again taking away your money with gleeful abandon.
Next: credit cards. Everybody in Philly has a story about a driver throwing a hissy fit because a passenger decided to use plastic instead of paper. But at least passengers had a choice. Card readers only became mandatory in D.C. last December. Boston and New York went digital in 2007 and 2009, respectively. In Philly, it was 2005.
Finally, stop kvetching about the cleanliness, or the upholstery, or whatever it is that you find icky about the taxis here. For one, Philly cabs are relatively new and well maintained; by law, they can’t be more than eight years old. Second, I have a hunch the city’s foremost taxi critics haven’t spent much time riding the Broad Street Line or the El. Buy a token, take a round trip, and then we can talk “dirty.”
Plus, in the denser parts of the city, cabs are exceptionally easy to find. Though Philly has a high human-to-cab ratio — roughly one cab per 1,000 residents, vs. one cab per 625 residents in NYC — there are far fewer people here who can afford to take them. In Manhattan, hailing a cab is a contact sport. In Center City, fare-hungry drivers will actually honk at you to get your attention.
If Philadelphia can’t be the best at anything, it’s imperative that it be considered the absolute worst. But it only takes a few out-of-town cab rides to see how good we actually have it — a finding well worth the fare.
Originally published as “Shut Up. Philly Cabs Are Great.” in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.