Good Cab, Bad Cab: The New York taxi scam and how to avoid it

My girlfriend got scammed by a taxi in New York City.

Sanaya and I went to New York City for a work vacation (she worked, I vacationed), and we were on our last day and planning our departure. We were on different flights, since I decided last minute to go to the big apple, and even more last minute decided not to take a 9-hour bus ride.

The whole trip we’d been using Uber to get around, since our generation has come to rely on the app instead of using taxis. Uber had worked perfectly, with the AC blasting to save us from the heat wave and some interesting conversations about global warming and religion with drivers. On our departure day, however, we were in a rush to get Sanaya to Newark Liberty Airport and there was a taxi RIGHT outside! We decided she would take it and get to the airport on time. That’s where we meet:

The Bad Cab

The cab ride started off bad. There was no AC in the taxi, and only a tiny fan blowing equally hot air back into Sanaya’s face. She doesn’t remember the cab driver’s name, so we’re just going to call him Adrian. I knew an Adrian back in elementary school, and he was like super mean.

Adrian then asks if Sanaya would like to go with the flat far to Newark or the regular meter, with the implication that the flat fare was better. She went with the flat fare, just as I would have, which he punched in at $103 for the trip. He doesn’t mention that there’s extra fees for going through toll booths and other things, so the total ended up being $125 in the end. He then asks to swipe the card on his phone through a point of sale app, She swiped her card, and although already suspicious she went on her merry way, only to get an email from the app saying the final bill was $158.68. After she’d left, he took the liberty of adding a tip for himself and then signed on her behalf.

How much should the cab far have actually cost? That answer comes from:

The Good Cab

I was leaving a few hours later, and I had been juggling between taking an Uber or a cab. I knew that taxis in New York City have a flat rate to JFK airport, so I wasn’t worried about being taken advantage of. Also the Uber fares would spike and dip, with the lowest being $70 and the highest being $118, and that was within 5 minutes of each other. It was so volatile and terrifying that I think I got a feel for what stockbrokers go through on a daily basis. I decided for the sake of my heart, I’d take a cab.

I go to the first cab I see outside our hotel, but the driver says that the doorman already flagged him for different passengers, and just as that happens another cab stops and ushers me over. I get in and say hello to my drive Ahmed.

taxi cab new york city

I won’t pretend that I knew about the JFK flat rate like some seasoned world traveller. It’s literally written on the side of every cab (see airplane on back door).

I get in and ask Ahmed about the flat fare to JFK, and he gladly punches it in as Fare 2 ($52) and explains the whole thing to me.

“I’ll tell you right now that there is only a flat fare to JFK, and that is New York City law. If anyone tells you something different, they are scamming you! I am a religious man, so I will never scam anybody.”

This peaked my interest, especially after hearing about Sanaya’s suspicious experience. I ask what the flat rate to Newark would be, since my girlfriend had gone earlier that day and had been charged a flat rate.

“There’s no such thing as a flat rate to Newark, she got scammed. How much did it cost her?”

So I tell him.

“WHAT?!?” That ride is maximum $80 in the worst traffic. No way it should cost more than $85. I am so angry that she got scammed. There are over 10,000 of us cab drivers in the city, and there is maybe 0.5% of them that try to scam them. They are the ones that give us such a bad name.”

We continue chatting for the next hour to the airport about a lot of things, but the scam was the main topic of conversation. He gave me the tips and tricks to avoid this happening in the future.

Avoiding scams 101:

  1. Don’t ask how much it costs to go somewhere, instead tell the driver where you want to go. As soon as you ask how much it costs, it gives a potential scam driver the chance to offer you a higher “flat rate” which is illegal.
  2. FLATE RATES DON’T EXIST OUTSIDE OF THE JFK FLAT RATE. If you go anywhere else it will be a meter rate. If you want to go home to Montreal, you can take the meter rate and pay $5,000 no problem.
  3. Every cab is supposed to run their payment through the meter, and a receipt is going to print out of the side of the meter. Anything else is illegal.
  4. There are only two rates you really need to know about; RATE 1 and RATE 2. Rate 1 is when you are using the meter normally, and rate 2 is the flat fare of $52.00 to get to the airport.
  5. Get a receipt from the meter, which you are entitled to have. That gives you all the information you need if something isn’t right, especially the medallion number (the number for the cab) and the driver’s cab license number.


    The medallion number is the number of the cab, and the driver number is, well…the driver number. Also note the REGULAR FARE and RATE 1. Rate 1 is using the meter normally, whereas if it were going to JFK airport it would say JFK FARE and RATE 2.

  6. Be weary of doormen. According to Ahmed, a lot of cab drivers get approached by doormen from hotels and suggest to them to overcharge the next passengers and don’t process it through the meter, and in exchange they’ll split the fare. He said he’d been approached several times to do just that, but as a religious man he refused to scam people. If you’re leaving a hotel and need a cab, walk around the corner and hail one yourself. They’re literally everywhere!

At the end of the day, the scam really shook Sanaya. She felt taken advantage of because she was either a tourist, a woman or both. But thanks to Ahmed, he restored my faith in taxi cabs and their drivers by helping us get ahead of the scammers and know how to prepare ourselves. I believe him when he says it’s such a tiny percentage of them that are giving the rest a bad name. Once you have the information to protect yourself, it becomes very difficult to be scammed.

Or you could just Uber it.

A Snaptastic day at work

Let’s be honest, work isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.

Sometimes it’s long. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s hectic, and sometimes it’s just downright awful.

Having had experience in both the office world and the customer service world, I’ve had more than my fair share of “down time”, where it seems as if the clocks are painted on and the sweet glorious taste of freedom is simply unreachable. Every now and them, something amazing can happen.

Like doing the water bottle flip challenge, 3 times in a row. No big deal.

During one stint at the workplace where time (and productivity) was basically at a standstill, I asked myself, “How can I entertain myself, and potentially others?”, which is how I decided to build an imaginary group of fellow employees to keep me company using Snapchat. This was a particular period in time where most of the other staff members were on break, so with an empty office I had no choice but to be creative.

Who said you couldn’t have fun at work?!

Note: All of these snaps were made while on break. I would never use company time to create such a masterpiece! (or snapsterpiece).


The Canadian Political Party websites are getting passive-aggressively fiesty (and it’s awesome!)

With a Canadian federal election quickly approaching on the horizon, each national political party is being put under the microscope. Whether it’s about party policies, the state of the economy or climate change, not a single stone is being left unturned.

Except perhaps the “page not found” pages on their websites.

The 404 page is one we barely give a second thought to, except to say “Oops, I took a wrong turn.” and then move on in mere seconds. It’s an afterthought for most of us, but the political parties took the time to come up with unique, clever and sassy ideas for theirs.

Now even though I am a committed (insert your political affiliation here) like you, we’re going to put that aside and look at these pages together.

The Conservative Party of Canada

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The Conservatives got on the “bashing Justin Trudeau” train early, putting out ads before the election campaign had even officially begun. They have been using the “Just Not Ready” mantra  consistently, questioning whether young Justin has what it takes to run a country.

It is a clear low-blow towards Justin, but it’s a damn good one. If you’re going to take the time to be clever, might as well do it at an opponent’s expense. Props to the Conservatives on this one.

The New Democratic Party

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The NDP decided to take a shot at the current Prime Minister. Along the same lines as the Conservatives, the NDP came up with a link (pun intended) between a broken link and a broken Conservative plan. Again, clever but ice-cold. I love it!

The Liberal Party of Canada

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The Liberal Party of Canada went with a 404 page to adhere to the younger audience, coming up with the most Canadian version of the well-known Fail Whale on the Twitter 404 page.  Without taking any shots at other political parties, the Liberals were able to be clever at no one’s expense. Being able to include Canada Geese and a Moose on your page is always a bonus.

The Bloc Quebecois

The Bloc Quebecois did not have a 404 page, as any broken links simply went to the news page.


Personally, I find all of these pages great. Even if you think they might be cheap shots at one another, I would argue that these are attempts to at least get the younger, more internet-savvy voters to take even the slightest bit of interest in politics. If even one of these 404 pages made someone laugh or go “Oh snap!”, then they have accomplished a very difficult task; making politics interesting (note: this is something I’ve already written about).


Bonus Round: The Parti Quebecois Provincial Party

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Translation: “This page in unfindable, like our signature on the Canadian Constitution.”

Oh snap.


Making politics interesting – the improbable quest

Note: Writing this article made me realize how hard it is to find a Canadian flag to take a picture of. Fellow Canadians, we need to get more patriotic!

When many people hear the word “politics”, their eyes start to glaze over and a bit of drool drips out of their mouth. People are simply uninterested in what’s happening on Parliament Hill (for my non-Canadian readers, insert federal government’s office here). Too often, it’s either an issue unrelated to you, or it involves an ridiculous amount of big words that you need to spend the next four hours researching. Short of having a Political Science degree, chances are you will have trouble understanding something you don’t really care about. I see why a lot of people don’t invest in learning about politics.

The problem is that we should care. When elections come around, how do we know who we are going to vote for? Will we even vote? The first time I voted, I’m pretty sure I decided who I would vote for based on who had the coolest name. I had so little knowledge of what stance each party was taking on the big issues, and this stopped me from being able to make an informed decision. The only reason I learnt anything was because I had interview Members of Parliament while working as a reporter at the Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

At the last federal election, six out of every 10 Canadians used their right to vote, and that number was much lower for people aged 25 and under. I’m right on that bubble at 24, and I know countless people from my high school who didn’t vote. It may be that they don’t have confidence in any party, or that they don’t know enough about each party’s platform to make a decision. It may even be a silent protest, using their non-vote as a statement. Whatever the reason may be, there a lot of youngsters who aren’t making their voices heard.

There is no way to elect a truly representative government if that many people aren’t voting. It is a problem that has gotten worse at every election. Why is that? Is it because the system doesn’t work? Have people, especially young people, lost confidence in Canada’s political system? Or is it people are not getting the information and understanding required to make an informed decision?

High school history professor Mario Bissonnette has been trying to fix the problem for years.

Bissonnette, a graduate of UQAM and Université de Sherbrooke, has worked in the education sector for nearly 25 years as a teacher and vice-principal. For seven years he was a jury member for the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching History and a member of the Library of Parliament’s Teacher Advisory Committee in Ottawa.

Bissonnette believes in involving youth in the democratic process, and he does so by organizing Youth Parliaments and ensuring his school sends a delegation to the annual event in Quebec City. At the event, they spend several days debating in the National Assembly and learning democratic procedure. He has organized mock elections in Commission scolaire des Trois-Lacs and Lester B. Pearson School Board high schools in his region.

Mario Bissonnette has been teaching his high school history students how the Canadian political system works. (photo courtesy Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges)

Mario Bissonnette has been teaching his high school history students how the Canadian political system works. (photo courtesy Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges)

“I asked myself, ‘What could I do as a teacher?’, and I got involved with some organizations which help bring democracy into the classroom and I started organizing electoral simulations,” Bissonnette said in an interview last year. “Every time there was a provincial or federal election, all of my students had to do research on each party and then vote for one.”

Getting the youth involved in politics is Bissonnette’s main goal. He is very concerned with the cynicism that young voters or to-be voters have towards politics. Through education and participation, he believes that the youth will have an invested interest in being involved in Canada’s politics.

“I think not getting the youth involved is a mistake. If people get involved, they can make a huge difference.

“It may be a bit naïve, but I honestly believe that you can change the world with politics, and make a difference in the daily lives of the people. When you explain to people that the decisions of their government have a direct impact on their personal lives, they can relate.”

I took a Political Science class this year called “Introduction to Canadian Politics”. I learnt more about the way our country is run in that course than I did in all of my University, Cegep and high school classes combined. I find that concerning. When I turned 18 and was legally allowed to vote, I had no idea what I was doing. I simply voted for whoever had the coolest name, or who my parents were voting for. It was almost as bad as not voting, because I was not making a decision based on policies or ideologies I believed in.

Bissonnette is attempting to get his students actively involved in politics, in the hopes that they will get to the voting age and have a basic idea of what each party stands for and who they would like to vote for. When I think back, I wish I had learnt more about Canadian politics, so I could have properly contributed as a voting citizen when I was of age. I’m sure high school me would hate that I am suggesting more classes, but it’s information that would actually benefit in the future.

I wasn’t making informed decisions in my voting until I was 22, after forcing myself to learn a bit about each party and their stance on certain issues. I believe initiatives like Bissonette’s will help lower the amount of young voters who get to the polls without a basic understanding of how the system works. I think it’s very important to teach people about politics as soon as possible and to demonstrate the importance and impact of being involved in the process. Democracy only works if everyone is using their voice and are informed about the issues at hand. That is what we need to strive for.


What do you think? Should we teach teenagers in High School about the political system? Vote below.

Why Walter Scott matters

Unfortunately, this will not be a happy post with my usual cheery demeanor. I wasn’t sure whether to write about the topic, but the recent events involving Walter Scott and Michael Slager in South Carolina have hit me harder than I expected.

When I saw a link to the video a few days ago, I never thought it would strike me as hard as it did. We have become so desensitized to violence in the media to the point where seeing shootings on television are almost surreal.

This video was as real as it gets, and it was chilling.

Another thing that hit me was reading a short but moving blog post by my brother-in-law, who briefly describes how seeing the shooting affected him as a black man. In his blog (link HERE), he states:

As a black person I could not help but weep because in watching that short video it was a painful reminder how little value my life has in the eyes of others. I hope next time a police officer draws to act as judge, jury and executioner upon another “dangerous” black man he realises:

We have loved ones
We have dreams and aspirations
We love our children and want to see them grow
We want to see the sun and the moon
We want to live our lives in peace and happiness too
Our lives have value too

Reading this brought me incredibly sadness. The fact that someone I know and love feels that there are people who consider his life less valuable tore a hole in my heart.

At Scott’s funeral, the Pastor who officiated the ceremony stated that the shooting was the result of overt racism (link HERE). He says,

“Walter’s death was motivated by racial discrimination. You’ve got to hate somebody to shoot them in the back.”

The United States does indeed have a problem with racism. It seems like only a few weeks ago that the public was up in arms after Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson. We now have a video of another unarmed black man being shot in the back. These events fall onto a long list of deadly shootings of black men by police officers. It is a nail in the coffin for any argument that race is not an issue in the country.

The problem with the race issue in America is that it cannot be changed with new policies and procedures – it is embedded so much deeper than legislation. We have seen with gay rights in America that even when the laws change, the social stigmas do not. No matter what policy changes may come from this incident (if any), it will not stop people from abusing their powers in a discriminatory fashion.

To be clear, I don’t believe every police officer is racist, just as I don’t believe every back person is innocent (or white person, or hispanic person, or asian person). I also realize that there are black people who are being killed at the hands of other black people, which is equally problematic. What I do believe is that there are far too many incidents between black men and excessive force being used by police officers to mark it up as “normal”. The law is supposed to be colour-blind, yet it is clear that this is not so. There is a culture problem deeply rooted in history which must change. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy like Walter Scott to spark social action.

What is important is that we do not stop fighting for this change. Too often there is a massive public outcry after a tragedy which is then followed by deafening silence. A few weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there was silence. A few weeks after Michael Brown was shot, there was silence.

We can no longer allow for this silence to settle. We cannot let Walter Scott fall into this same silence. Without a continuous and relentless fight for change, change will not come.