Peter Honig moved to New York City in 1979. He’d finished college in New Jersey and had no vision for his future. He saw an ad in the New York Times looking for a taxi driver. With zero experience and scant knowledge of local streets, he contacted the Ann Service Corporation, one of the largest taxi companies in the city. The company did a background check and agreed to help Honig obtain a Hack License.
A Hack License allows a driver to operate a Yellow Medallion Taxi in the five boroughs of New York. A Medallion identifies a cab as part of the Taxi & Limousine Commission, the governing body of New York taxis. In those days, a Medallion cost $62,000. By 2014, the cost was above $1 million. In 2020, due to competition from Uber, the cost of a Medallion dropped to $150,000.
Honig passed the TLC written test, paid $30 and received his HACK license. He joined the ranks of 30,000 fellow cab drivers in the city. Most were American born men aged 40–50. There were a few Caribbean drivers and a large number of immigrant Russians who’d been doctors and lawyers in the old country. Honig, who played in a punk band, was among a small percentage of musicians who drove cabs.
Drivers worked a 12-hour shift starting at 6am or 6pm. On Honig’s first day, he arrived in the morning to find a long line outside the Chelsea taxi station. He waited two hours only to be told there were no remaining cabs. The next day, he arrived a half-hour early but again failed to secure a cab. On his third day, a fellow driver told him to “grease” the dispatcher a five-dollar bill. This worked and Honig had his first cab.
Drivers were given two options regarding the lease payment. They could work for 40% of the meter total and the cab company paid for gas, or they could pay $62 per day ($82 for a night shift) and buy their own gas. Most rookies opted for the 40% option and a day shift since it was less intimidating.
“No one tells you what to do,” Honig says. “You’re given a cab and you just start driving.” In his first year, Honig stuck to picking up businessmen. Though they tipped poorly, they were safe and reliable. They also gave specific directions helping Honig learn the Manhattan streets.
Honig averaged between $50-$75 a shift his first year. (Today, New York taxi drivers…