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Taxi drivers who earn rider praise

By Matt Flegenheimer | The New York Times | Updated: 2013-04-28 05:46

There is perhaps no more judgmental perch than the back seat of a New York City taxicab.

Every driver is too distracted, every fare too high. Every route appears imperfect.

But about twice a day, in a land unrivaled in its capacity to appear unimpressed, taxi passengers in New York have something nice to say about their cabbies - their experience so memorable that they tell the city about it.

The drivers' deeds have ranged from heroic (leaving the cab to confront the assailant of a pedestrian) to frivolous. Some are curious: one entry from last spring read simply, "Great advice."

"I just started having this conversation with the cabdriver about quality versus quantity with women, that kind of thing," the recipient of the advice, Felton Brown, 31, said. "I told him about how beautiful this girl was. He was like, 'Look, that's fine, but you've got to really drill into what's more important.'"

The city's 311 Web site, an information forum for citizens, makes it easy for passengers to register a complaint about a cabdriver. "Yellow Taxi Driver Compliment," meanwhile, is nowhere to be found on the main page.

Yet according to records, 881 taxi compliments were filed, primarily on the Web site or on the 311 hot line, from the beginning of 2012 through last month. (There were over 22,000 complaints.)

Some plaudits were heaped on drivers who followed oft-ignored guidelines.

"Willing to take us to Brooklyn," one read.

"Did NOT use his phone! Unusual!" said another.

Others doubled as apologies, for forgotten tips or passenger behavior that was, on second thought, ill considered.

"We thought he was trying to cheat us," one rider wrote, admitting that she had given the driver the wrong address. "We were irate, got the police involved etc."

Clay Pipkin, 24, from Park Slope, Brooklyn, said he left his girlfriend's diamond ring in a cab last year. After Mr. Pipkin located the driver, the ring was returned. Mr. Pipkin offered a cash reward, he said, but the driver refused.

"He said, 'God has provided enough,'" Mr. Pipkin said. "I'm an atheist, but I thought that was kind of touching."

For Mr. Brown, the driver was "someone with a lot more experience, giving me that insight into what you should pay attention to, into what really matters."

Perhaps the most effusive comments concerned the deft handling of the city's traffic. "HE DROVE CONFIDENTLY," one author gushed. Another entry described a shortcut-laden trip from Kennedy International Airport to La Guardia, after a passenger misread his flight information.

Each driver who gets a compliment is sent a letter from the taxi commission, officials said.

David S. Yassky, the city's taxi commissioner, said he was struck by how many of the compliments had little to do with driving.

"When you're in a confined space with another person, it creates a certain intimacy," he said, adding that being a taxi driver "might be second only to therapist as a job that gives you a window into people's personal lives."

The New York Times

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