When people fall asleep in the back of a cab, it’s usually not on purpose. But for New York City visitors looking for an inexpensive, unique alternative to pricey hotel rooms, Jonathan Powley has started a business renting taxi cabs on Airbnb.
For $39 a night, or $49 on the weekends, book a stay in a decommissioned yellow cab, parked in Long Island City with a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. The New York City resident has outfitted the 64-square-feet of space with a mattress, pillows and a portable battery powered fan. And while the accommodations don’t include an en-suite bathroom, he provides guests with a list of nearby options open to the public.
“I wanted to do something different and creative,” Powley tells Lonely Planet. “I was renting motor homes and camper vans and one broke down and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I went to Ikea about ten times, made it nice inside and rented it. I met tons of amazing travellers from all over the world who booked it, so I wondered what other unique places I could rent.” (Powley himself has stayed in some cool places, including an old water tower in California and a cave in Cappadocia, Turkey.)
To make guests more comfortable with the limitations of staying in a taxi, Powley draws on his background in the service industry; he studied hotel and restaurant management and currently works in food and beverage at Yankee Stadium. His past as a concierge for the Ritz Carlton also helps. “I try to make every experience special. If guests are coming for an anniversary, I’ll add fresh flowers. One time I made a heart with rose petals on the bed.”
For German guests finishing a six month trip with a few nights in his taxi, Powley, added some touches of home. He found a real German butcher on the Upper East Side to sell him German sausages, which he hung from the car’s curtain rod, plus added a David Hasselhoff album to the car’s CD player and left a note to “push play.” The guests loved it. “They were laughing so hard. They did tell me David Hasselhoff isn’t as popular there as we think he is.”
Sleeping in a parked car is okay in New York City, as long as the vehicle is parked legally, and Powley reports that he hasn’t had any problems. “I park in a residential, safe neighbourhood — one of the safest in the city — with an awesome view of the skyline. I haven’t had issues with anyone. The windows are tinted and there’s a curtain. Most of the time no one knows anyone is in there.”
When asked if he’s planning to expand the business, Powley explains he’s done just the opposite. “At one point I was renting eight vehicles simultaneously. There’s a lot of work that goes into that. I decreased the number to two-three vehicles to make it more personalised and welcoming. This way, I can really make sure I take care of them and fulfill whatever they need.”