How is a "car service" different from just calling a cab?

On Law & Order and other New York-based shows, they talk about hiring a car service. How is that different from just calling a cab?

NYC has incredibly restrictive licensing for taxis. You can’t call for a taxi, you can only hail them from the streets. The rates are set by the TLC, they all have to be the same color, the makes and models of the vehicles are restricted to a short list. Car services are the only way you can schedule a pickup, but they’re prohibited from picking up fares.

But that doesn’t stop them.

Car services usually use nicer cars, and the car interiors look and smell like they are used by people who use car services, not people who are picked up off the street. The biggest difference, though, is that car services are often (usually?) direct billed, so that you don’t have to pay out-of-pocket. You just call them up and they take you where you want to go.

Interesting. I didn’t realize you could only hail cabs, not phone for them. Are the per mile rates the same for cabs and car services?

No, they’re different. Not always clear who has the advantage - some trips are cheaper by car service and some by taxi. Additionally, the price set/agreed upon before departure in the case of a car service, and in the case of a taxi, is calculated as your drive.

Also, yellow cabs are rarer than unicorns in some parts of the city. I live in the north Bronx, and on the rare occasions I’ve needed to use a taxi (like going to the airport), I’ve had to call a car service.

Not just NYC and surrounds; I’ve used car services in cities like Huntsville, AL and Dallas, TX. You schedule them, not hope a cab is around the corner. Trip to the airport and need to leave at 0530? Good luck finding a cab - the car service is there. You have a set rate usually (and billed) so no joy rides. Same for the return home - give them an airline and flight and they even check for delays and early arrivals. Echo the clean and better kept vehicles mentioned above.

Where I live (South Texas), you phone for a cab, either “come now” or “come tomorrow at 7 am to take me to the airport” (or some variation). There are no cabs to “hail” (as in, just cruising the street looking for passengers) except lined up at the airport and m-a-y-b-e at a big hotel. So the cab is virtually the same as a car service.

I think that’s how it is everyone except NYC. In DC (my old stomping grounds), there were cabs driving around everywhere, but you could still call them up and schedule a pickup at 7am tomorrow.

In the city where I grew up, taxis needed to be licensed, but limos did not, so there were a lot of “limousines” that were exactly the size and style of taxicabs.

Neither one could you hail on the street.

Yes, NYC is the only city I’m aware of where there is a strict division between the two, in the sense that you cannot call for a cab and you cannot hail a car service on the street. Most other cities either have only one name for both services (usually they call them both cabs) or they have both but don’t separate them so strictly.

Incidentally there has been recent issues with smartphone apps that hail a cab, bringing up the question as to whether doing that is one is just doing a fancy version of an on-street hail (which would be legal for a cab, but not for a car service) or prearranging are ride (which would be legal for a car service, but not for a cab).

It doesn’t help that Uber (one of the companies that does this) was running the same service for both cabs and car services, so whichever side of the line it fell on it was against regulation some of the time.

At least here in the Chicagoland suburbs, I call a limo service every time I need a ride to O’Hare.

The difference? The limo service lets you schedule days or weeks ahead of time, they show up when you ask them to show up, and they act professional. You can specify a “shared ride” to keep the cost down (they might pick up other (scheduled and booked) passengers on the way.)

This ain’t a fanciness or pretentiousness thing either - the actual cars tend towards a bit shabby, and over half the time you get a towncar instead of a limo. But I don’t care about that, I care about the reliable scheduling and pickup. My notoriously stingy company is actually 100% fine with the limo service we all use, because the price ends up being about the same as a taxi ($50-$60 from the NW suburbs to O’hare, one way), and it’s more reliable.

There are some flat fares with NYC taxis. $52 from JFK to Manhattan, $22 from LaGuardia to Midtown. There’s also a flat fare from the Port Authority to Central Park.

Same here. Taxi from my house to the airport is usually $60, limo is $45 and as you said the limo will actually show up!

What’s the largest city in the world with no taxi service?

Brooklyn. Oh, you will occasionally see a taxi on the street and hail it, but if you want anything you must call a car service. There was a proposal to license special outer boroughs (i.e. any borough but Manhattan) but the licensed taxis strongly objected and I believe it has been dropped.

I’m surprised about the NYC thing. Here in Boston we can call or hail, though calling is far more reliable.

I have taken car service cars before, but I didn’t call for them, they were just there and asked if we needed a ride. They were nicer than cabs, in one we were offered candy, we were charged a flat fee (which was more than a cab), and the cars have special livery tags.

We were a little suspicious at first, but being that we were on a special swanky night out where money was no object, it was kind of nice.

I went on a cruise that started and ended at the Brooklyn cruise ship terminal, and when we got off there were plenty of taxis at the terminal waiting to pick up passengers.

There are spots in Brooklyn and Queens where there are cabs waiting- the airports, certain subway stations, probably that new arena in Brooklyn. But the other boroughs are not like most of Manhattan where you can just one of the yellow cabs that are conveniently cruising down the street.