Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: TAXI!

Taxi Cabs in NYC during rush hour on 5th Avenue. Photo by Joseph Plotz
Taxi Cabs in NYC during rush hour on 5th Avenue. Photo by Joseph Plotz

Did you know that “Taxi cab”’ is a shortened form of “Taximeter cabriolet?” I did not. And I don’t know how I feel about that.

Taxi cabs! A few different kinds come to mind. In New York City we had the yellow cabs which you could catch on the major avenues and busier streets of the city. More common in my neighborhood was the “car service.” These were cars (generally Lincoln Town Cars) which would show up in front of our building after we called the service, letting them know where we were going. Because we could call, we could get quotes on the cost of a trip. As a kid who suffered from chronic ear infections, I took more than a few trips to the Emergency Room with my mom in a car service, my mom frequently asking them to turn down their music to help ease the pain. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, both services took cash only and you just assumed the cabbie knew where the hell they were going. Nowadays taxis take cards and most cars have GPS’s, meaning even the most unseasoned cabbie can get you to 28th and 1st Avenue from Grand and FDR lickety-split and without going in circles.

Taxi cabs offer the convenience of cars, the ability to get from point A to point B without making stops along the way or leaving you, you know, a few blocks from where you really wanted to go, without the hassle of having to own a car in a big city. You don’t have to park it, insure it, or hope it doesn’t get stolen. Unlike a bus or train, you don’t have to worry about strange passengers or unexpected delays beyond a traffic jam. In a busy city where you just have to get someplace as quickly as possible and the bus won’t cut it, a taxi can get the job done.

Of course, like everything, not every taxi is perfect. In cities where they aren’t often used, the service can be less than perfect (I’m looking at you, Portland, OR 2006. WTF, I waited on 28th and Glisan for like an hour, jerks). Sometimes the cabbie picks their nose or has no idea where they’re going, running up the meter unnecessarily. Sometimes the drivers are sketchy as hell. Cabbies can also be targeted by criminals, especially since cabbies are known to have money on them. Cab drivers keep all kinds of strange hours to make sure people get where they need to go all times of day and night. Being on the road means they can be involved in traffic accidents and dealing with a constant stream of customers means they can come across unsavory sorts. Because driving the streets of a busy city is not the most desired or well-paying job on the block, this workforce can be made up of people newly arrived to the city, looking to make ends meet. Taxis are also pricey. When you’ve got $20 in your pocket and the meter’s at $18.50 with a block to go, a person can start sweating.

In a fast-paced urban campaign, taxis and taxi-like transportation can get the PCs where they need to go quick as…well, whatever is doing the moving. Walking is for plebes! Throw them all on a taxi and see where the cabbie and the adventure takes them.

For GMs

  • What is the taxi-like transportation in your campaign? Is it powered by people? Animals? Something else?
  • Are the taxis run by companies? Are there rival companies or does one person have a monopoly on all the transportation services? To whom do the taxi drivers answer?
  • What differentiates a taxi from a regular vehicle? How are they made to stand out on a busy street?
  • How do people summon taxis? Do they wait in certain areas? Hail them? Call them?
  • Who generally uses taxis? Do they use them to get to work or leisure?
  • Where are taxis most used? What streets do they frequent, looking for fares?
  • Who drives the taxis? What esteem is this job held in?
  • Do the cabbies keep logs of their fares? How detailed are these records and where are they stored?
  • Who regulates the taxis? Makes sure the vehicles are well maintained, that the drivers are knowledgeable regarding the city? Can communicate with passengers?
  • What are fares like and what are the alternative forms of transportation they have to compete with?

Plot Hooks

  • When someone starts a litter carrying service in the city, the PCs are hired to carry one such litter to make some cash. Well-off individuals and those who wish to have others think they’re well-off hire this service. Why do they take the job in the first place? What kind of customers do they pick up? Do they make any connections with their fares? How do the PCs get people to move out of their way and get their charges where they need to go as quickly as possible?
  • When the PCs arrive in a foreign city for official matters, the individual in charge of seeing to their stay insists they take a taxi when travelling the streets. Between engagements, they are driven from one place to another, never allowed to walk the streets themselves. Why is this? Are the PCs allowed to look out onto the streets? Do they like being taxied around or would they rather walk about? Is this being done for their safety or some other reason?
  • In an effort to encourage safety a cab company offers a monthly cash bonus to the cabbie with the least amount of accidents. When the same driver wins three months in a row, a few coworkers get suspicious and hire the PCs to investigate. How is the driver able to avoid accidents so well? Are the other drivers jealous? Where do their concerns come from? Is the owner of the cab company concerned or do they just wish their other drivers would follow suit?
  • A string of grisly murders occurs and the victims all have one thing in common: they’re all cab drivers. The PCs must investigate and get to the bottom of the untimely deaths. Is driving cabs the only thing they have in common? How are they killed? Who are the suspects? Who can help them find their last fares and are they connected to the murders?
  • Word on the street is the powerful people are moving important papers or products through the city, using cabs as a cover for the operation. The PCs must find which cabs and which individuals are involved and intercept the information or items. Why are the cab drivers in league with people much more powerful than themselves? What do they have to gain? Who are the PCs working for and why are they interfering?
  • People are forgetting large chunks of their day and by all accounts the last thing they are remembering is getting into a cab. What are they people doing while they are blacked out? What is happening to the people? Are the cabbies involved or is it the vehicles themselves that are causing the strange phenomenon?
  • Someone loses a very important item in a cab and hires the PCs to track it down. Discretion is important and time is of the essence. Do the PCs split up? What is the item? Do they know exactly what it is or just what it looks like? How do they track it down?

For PCs

  • Have you ever driven a taxi? Can you drive? Are you strong enough to carry a litter or at least help carry a litter?
  • Have you ever been in a taxi? What were the circumstances?
  • Are you ever in a hurry? Always in a hurry? Or do you take your time?
  • If you were stuck taking a cab and then found you couldn’t afford to pay the fare, what would you do? Bolt? Try to barter? Something else?
  • Do you tip your cab driver?
  • While in a cab you find something of value. Do you keep it for yourself or give it to the cabbie to turn into the lost and found?
  • Would you share a cab with a stranger, if they said you were going your way? What would make you say yes? What would encourage you to tell them to get the next one? Or would you let them have the cab and wait?

How can you use cab drivers and cabs in your campaign? Can you turn it into a hilarious sitcom with Tony Danza? What say you?

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