Being a taxi driver requires no formal education and lets you be your own boss and offers flexible hours. If you are successful, it also provides good pay. While the average earnings are only $10.97 per hour, experienced drivers can earn twice that. To become a successful taxi driver, you will need to get the proper training and certification, own your own taxi or work for a taxi company, and provide quality customer service while keeping you and your passengers safe.
Step# 1: Getting Certified
1 – Check to be sure you qualify.
All cities have a set of requirements to drive a taxi, and you should check them to be sure you qualify. Typical requirements for drivers include:
- A driver’s license
- Minimum Age – In most cities taxi drivers must be at least 21, though in some they can be as young as 18.
- Good Health – Drivers often have to pass a health exam to assure they have no conditions that would endanger passengers.
- No Convictions – Drivers must typically have no felony convictions and not be serving parole.
- No Tickets – Drivers must typically have no unpaid tickets in order to get certified.
2 – Train to be a taxi driver.
There is typically no formal educational requirement to be a taxi driver – i.e. you don’t need a high school diploma – but many cities require some brief training. The specifics will vary from city to city. This training usually lasts from a day to several weeks, and covers local traffic laws, driver safety, street layout, communication equipment, and taxi meter operation. Taxi companies will usually train new hires for free, or you can seek training at a local community college or specialized taxi school. Some municipalities that require training by law include:
- New York – Taxi drivers must take a 6 hour defensive driving course and complete either a 24 or 80 hour taxi school course. The longer course might well be worth it, as only 53% of test takers pass the license test.
- Chicago – You must attend a 1 – 2 week course at the Public Chauffeur Training Institute.
- San Francisco – You must attend an accredited taxi school and obtain a Taxi Training Certificate and Sensitivity Training Certificate.
- Paris – You must have obtained a level 1 first aid certificate, or Diplôme PSC1 (prévention et secours civiques de niveau 1).
3 – Pass any required tests.
Most municipalities, even if they do not have required training, do have a required test. Applicants are often charged a fee to take these tests. They vary in difficulty from “The Knowledge,” the London cab driver test that typically requires 2-4 years of study, to less daunting exams like the Washington, DC taxi driver test. If there is no training course, then the city will typically provide a study guide to help applicants prepare for the test. Tests cover topics such as:
- Cab requirements
- Business practices
- Customer service
4 – Acquire the necessary paperwork.
In addition to knowledge tests, most cities will require you to submit an application, furnish documents and undergo background checks to ensure that you have the right to work, a clean driving record and no criminal background. Typical requirements include:
- A valid driver’s license
- A social security card
- Immigrant documentation if applicable
- Driving record
- A criminal background check (for which you may need to supply fingerprints)
- A medical examination
- Drug test
5 – Pay any required fees and receive your certification or license to drive a taxi.
The fees for licensing typically range from $40 in less lucrative markets to upwards of $300 in big cities. Fees are sometimes waived if a city is experiencing a shortage of cab drivers.
Step# 2: Getting a Taxi
1 – Decide if you will own your own cab or contract to work for a taxi company.
Drivers who own their cabs take 100% of the fares received, but also have a host of expenses, from the cost of the cab to insurance to licensing. Employees of taxi companies either receive a percentage of fares (typically about a third) or rent the cab daily or weekly and pay all fuel costs.
2 – Consider the costs of being an independent driver.
Depending on the city or state where you are driving, getting started with your own cab can cost anywhere from about $5,000 – mostly the cost of the cab – to nearly a million dollars. Yes, one million. In big cities where the number of licensed taxis is limited, the cost of obtaining a license is often outrageous – $872,000 on average in New York, $560,000 in Boston, $300,000 in Chicago, and $325,000 in Paris – leaving new drivers little choice but to work for established companies. Overall costs include:
- The cab – Cars frequently used as cabs include Ford Crown Victorias, Dodge Caravans or Nissan Quests, Ford Escape Hybrids, and Toyota Priuses. They cost anywhere from about $3,000 used to over $30,000 new.
- Insurance – The requirements for taxi insurance are much higher than for private use of your car – between $5,000-$10,000 a year.
- Taxi meter – Around $180 used.
- A top light – Cost from $150 for a basic roof topper up to $1300 for a video topper.
- Car markings – You will need to put your business name and phone number on the side of your taxi. Decals start at $10-$25 per square foot.
3 – Get hired by a taxi company as a cheaper alternative.
Working for a company means you will make less money per client, but it also comes without the prohibitive start-up costs. In addition, having a dispatcher can help you to get more fares. There are two ways that contract drivers get paid:
- Percentage – The company pays all costs, including gas, and you take home about 30% of each fare. In Boston, drivers average about $200 gross per day, meaning they would take home only $60. In New York the average is closer to $250 for a take of $75 per day.
- Leasing – The driver leases the cab and pays for gas, but takes home all fares. Renting a cab costs around $100 per day, with fuel costs of about $20, meaning take home pay of around $80 to $130 per day.
4 – Drive your own car for a service like Uber or Lyft.
Drivers for these for-hire services are not taxi drivers and do not have to complete the same driver licensing or pay for a taxi license, resulting in higher per hour earnings. Uber charges passengers $.18 a minute plus $1 per mile, with a multiplier during times of higher demand, and drivers keep 80% of the fare. The only requirements are:
- A license
- Age 21 or older
- A car model year 2000 or newer (2005 in some cities)
- Background check
Step# 3: Being a Successful Taxi Driver
1 – Drive safely.
Avoiding accidents is your number one priority as a cab driver, because accidents endanger you and your passengers and cost you money.
- Follow all traffic laws.
- Do not speed.
- Take care when changing lanes. Do not weave through traffic.
- Do not drive when tired or otherwise impaired.
- Immediately report any accidents.
2 – Protect yourself.
Accidents are not the only danger a cabbie faces. There are also your passengers. Taxi drivers carry cash and operate alone, often late at night, making them vulnerable to assault. To protect yourself:
- Radio the dispatcher whenever picking up a client.
- Keep your windows rolled up and doors locked between fares.
- Be wary of passengers that give vague instructions.
- Do not let single passengers sit directly behind you. Use an excuse – company policy or car balance – and politely ask them to move.
- Do not drive into back alleys.
- Do not resist robberies. Instead, memorize the suspect’s description and contact the police as soon as possible.
3 – Know where to get fares.
Driving a taxi is a bit like fishing: you need to know where to get bites. When first starting out, experiment with different locations at different times until you find the right mix. Some places to consider include:
- Airports in the mid morning
- Business districts during lunch
- Suburban rail or subway stops during rush hour
- Out of the way restaurants during the evening
- Clubs late at night
4 – Pass out business cards.
If you’re an independent taxi driver, you’ll have to work long hours in order to pay for the lease on the car and make enough money for your salary. Giving out cards can boost your business by creating repeat customers.
5 – Know the town.
Yes, navigation systems allow anybody to get from point A to B, but really good taxi drivers know not only how to get where they are going, but the fasted routes for any time of day. More than that, they are able to offer recommendations on dining, lodgings, and nightlife.
6 – Provide quality customer service.
The difference between getting 5% and 10% on a tip can be huge. The better service you provide, the more money you will make. To give your passengers the best service possible:
- Keep your car clean.
- Always call passengers 30 minutes prior to pick-up if they have pre-booked. This will keep them from worrying about whether you will show up.
- Have snacks on hand for airport passengers. A bottle of water and a granola bar will be greatly appreciated by hungry passengers.
- Do not talk on the phone while driving passengers. It makes you a less safe driver, and it leaves you unavailable to answer questions.
- Stay calm. Do not curse at other drivers or traffic.
- Be courteous and thankful. “Good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening” are a must when your passenger enters the car. Always thank your passenger when he or she leaves.