There used to be thousands of gondolas in Venice; now there are only 400, used almost exclusively by tourists. Gondolieri are licensed by a guild and rates are fixed. The uniform of black pants and striped shirt is required. I think there is also a hat but I never saw anyone wearing one. Some gondolieri will talk during your ride but this depends on the person. Do they sing, as legend has it? Most don't but some do--we heard one. And he was very good, too!
Beyond the few requirements, gondolas can be decked out according to the owner's fancy. Gondolieri must undergo 400 hours of training, an apprenticeship, and a comprehensive exam on Venetian history and landmarks, and practical skill in handling the boat. I read that they can earn up to $150,000 a year. There were no women gondolieri until 2010.
Gondola rides cost about $100 for a 30 to 40 minute ride. Up to six people can ride for the same price. I'm a little sorry we didn't take a ride, it is so quintessentially Venice. However, I did buy a little glass Christmas ornament of Santa rowing a gondola! That will have to be good enough!