EXPLAINER: Differences Among NYC For-Hire Vehicles

Posted on April 22, 2009 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

NEW YORK — If you have ever been to New York City, you have seen the myriad of different types of vehicles for hire. Other than the taxis which have a light on the top, the rest of the for-hire vehicles seem to blend together. I had always believed that the only vehicles that could legally be hailed on the street were the taxis, and I was correct. I have seen otherwise which has led me to question my belief. I also believed that all of the other cars were “black cars” and were just a step up from taxis. I, of course, was wrong, and would like to share my education with you.

There are four levels of for-hire vehicles in New York City. The problem comes with the vehicles that are not taxis. You see, black Lincoln Town Cars are used in all three of the other categories. Not all black Lincoln Town Cars are alike. Huh? Yes, that’s what I said. A horse is not always a horse. Let’s first define the types of vehicles:


A taxi is a motor vehicle, yellow in color, bearing a medallion indicating that it is licensed by the NYC TLC to carry up to five passengers for hire and authorized to accept hails from persons in the street. If it looks like a taxi and it is yellow, then it is probably a taxi.

Community Car Services or Livery

These vehicles are designed to carry fewer than six passengers. They are dispatched from a Livery Base Station. They transport passengers who have prearranged the trip and passengers are charged for service on the basis of flat rate, time, mileage, or zones. Passengers can pay in the vehicle for this service. The vehicles have a trouble light (an amber disc) mounted on the back of them which can be activated by the driver if they feel threatened. Police have been trained in handling these situations. These vehicles contain partitions or digital still cameras for security. These vehicles essentially are the step up from the taxi service.

Black Cars

All vehicles are dispatched on a prearranged basis. All Black Car Vehicles are owned by franchisees of the Base Station or are members of a cooperative that operates the Base Station; and more than 90% of the Base Station’s business is on a payment basis other than direct cash payment by a passenger. Corporations use black car services and are billed. Passengers sign a voucher for their ride.

Luxury Cars

Luxury Limousine vehicles have a seating capacity of 20 or fewer passengers. Passenger trips are arranged in advance. The Luxury Limousine Vehicles are dispatched [from] [by] its Base Station, and more than 90% of its business is on a payment basis other than direct cash payment by a passenger. The insurance requirements are higher for a luxury vehicle than a black car.

The major differences are how the trips are arranged, how the passenger pays, and the insurance requirements on the vehicles. Only taxis can legally be hailed on the streets of New York. It is illegal to hail any other vehicle than a taxi. With the other three types of vehicles, it is confusing. Unless you know the names of the companies, it is very difficult to differentiate the levels of services. I have been told to look at the vehicles themselves. See how beaten up they look, and that should help. But I have tried, and even the luxury-based cars get dings from luggage on their bumpers. I now know to look for the amber disc to identify the vehicle as a livery or community car. I have seen livery services using L-Series vehicles. I have ridden in livery vehicles and received excellent service. I received the same in Black Cars and luxury vehicles.

But remember: In New York City, not all black Lincoln Town Cars are the same.

Source: Linda M. Moore, LCT Magazine

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