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, particularly in hindsight.
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 take the unusual step of telling the city about it.
The drivers’ deeds have ranged from heroic — leaving the cab to confront the assailant of a pedestrian, returning a diamond ring, caring for a college student after a mugging — to frivolous.
Praise was won for the proper use of headlights. An eagerness to discuss the flowers of Central Park. Being Sri Lankan.
Some are more 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 in a telephone interview. “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 makes it easy for passengers to register a complaint about a cabdriver; “Yellow Taxi Complaint” is listed as one of nine top services, alongside grievances about a neighbor’s noise and a landlord’s inattention to maintenance. “Yellow Taxi Driver Compliment,” meanwhile, is nowhere to be found on the main page.
Yet according to administration 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.”
Some detailed beloved pets in various states of duress. One traveler said that her dog “had an accident in the cab,” adding, somewhat dubiously, that she did not notice until after exiting the vehicle. She said she was unsure if the seat had been damaged, but “if it was I am SO VERY sorry!”
Several authors asked how to send gifts to their drivers — typically cash, at least for local riders, though one Missouri man hoped to deliver a St. Louis Cardinals hat.
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 through his garage, 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.”
In some cases, the compliments came not from riders but from their parents. Lori Bannon, 54, from Dallas, was on the phone last summer with her daughter, Lindsay, who was in the city for an internship, when suddenly she heard a scream.
“I hear her fall, I hear a thud, then I hear a sound of heavy breathing and running, and then her phone goes dead,” Ms. Bannon said. “A mother’s worst nightmare.”
Soon, she said, she received a call from a taxi driver. He had seen her daughter sobbing at the curb as the thief made off with her iPhone. He then coaxed her into his cab and handed over his phone so she could call Ms. Bannon as he drove her home.
“He let her stay on the phone with me the whole time, using his minutes,” Ms. Bannon said. “He saved my daughter’s life.”
Zafar Choudry, 58, who has driven a yellow taxi since 1989, received similar praise last year, after driving a disoriented partygoer to his home in Chatham, N.J.
Mr. Choudry used the man’s phone to speak with his mother for directions, since the rider was unable to recall where he lived.
“A lot happens at night times. They beat fares, they fight us sometimes,” Mr. Choudry said. “But we are sober. We should be nice.”
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.
One submission read, in its entirety: “Mchugh. Good driver.”
A few drivers were hailed for their cabs’ amenities, including a “brilliant and bright” roof light, an “odor-free” back seat, and “signs reminding us to cover our mouths when we cough.”
Only a small number of entries seemed devoid of praise. “Middle-aged man of color,” one read. “He told us he recently attended a wedding in Chicago.”
Each driver who receives a compliment is sent a letter from the taxi commission, officials said. (Mr. Choudry said he had received four commendations from the city during his career, the most among his cab-driving friends.)
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.”
For Mr. Brown, the rider whose romantic outlook was upended by a taxi ride, the driver represented “someone with a lot more experience, giving me that insight into what you should pay attention to, into what really matters.”
Since the conversation, he said, he has begun to think about settling down. But New Yorkers seeking a referral might be out of luck.
“I can’t remember the driver’s name,” he said. “I gave him a decent tip.”
A version of this article appeared in print on April 11, 2013, on page A1 of the New York Times with the headline: Sometimes, Riders Find a Cabby Worth Praising. By MATT FLEGENHEIMER