New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Flailing and Hailing

One of the most frustrating things for me to observe are people in the streets uselessly trying to hail a taxi, either by a) standing with an arm outstretched a la Our Lady of Liberty or b) frantically flailing their arms, when there is either no taxi in site or there are no taxis which are both unoccupied and on duty. I am convinced that very few understand the roof light system in use and its permutations. However, most have better things to do than study the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) rules and regulations files, which run hundreds of pages. So, as a former New York City taxi driver, let me extract the most salient pieces that actually impact the use of taxis, including roof lights.

On the roof of every taxi, there is a 4 digit taxi license number. When lit, the taxi is available, when unlit it is occupied. On either side, there are the words "off duty." When lit, technically the cab is off duty, typically heading back home; when unlit, the cab is available for hire or hired. What no one explains is that these lights can be lit or unlit in all four combinations and their meanings. So in the spirit of Pascal's Wager, I offer:

1) Number lit, Off Duty unlit: This is your main target. The taxi is on duty and unoccupied/available.
2) Number lit, Off Duty lit: Off duty and unoccupied. This is the thorny one. Technically the driver can pick you up if your destination is on route to his garage or home. If you are aggressive and approach a driver who is headed roughly in your direction, he may oblige. However, this is also the scam setting - many drivers will do this in order to be selective about who they pick up and where they will go, a violation of TLC rules.
3) Number unlit, Off Duty lit: The taxi is occupied as a result of condition 2.
4) Number unlit, Off Duty unlit: Typical occupied condition. The taxi is on duty and has a passenger.

Rule of thumb - keep an eye out only for taxis with the center number lit, and in the case of those also with the Off Duty lit, try to grab their attention and negotiate.

Another important thing to understand is that a yellow medallioned NYC taxi must take you anywhere you want to go in the five boroughs of New York City and by any route you choose. The women in the photo were heading to Brooklyn. The first cab they approached turned them down after they indicated they wanted to go to Brooklyn. It is not necessary to ask a driver on the street if he or she will go to your destination. Get in and tell him where you want to go. In the event of any refusal or other problem, make a note of his ID number, call 311 and report him.

From the TLC website:

§2-50 Refusals.

(a) A driver shall not seek to ascertain the destination of a passenger before such passenger is seated in the taxicab.
(b) A driver shall not refuse by words, gestures or any other means, without justifiable grounds set forth in §2-50(e) herein, to take any passenger to any destination within the City of New York, the counties of Westchester or Nassau or Newark Airport. This includes a person with a disability and any service animal accompanying such person.

I hope this mini taxi guide will keep you from unnecessary flailing and hailing :)


Orange Girl said...

Wow this is fantastic! After living in New York for 4 months earlier this year and having taxi drivers asking where we were going and refusing to take us we now know why and what to do! Thanks so much.
P.S. Love your site - missing New York and we enjoy lots of memories prompted by your photos.

Leslie said...

It drives me nuts, too, to see out of towners uselessly hailing one unavailable cab after another, or those who think by simply putting up an arm a cab will magically appear out of nowhere! Countless times I have shouted out to frustrated innocents "Look for the cab with only the middle light on!"...and sometimes I even hear a "thank you." Wake up and smell the coffee.

Mary P. said...

What a public service, Brian! As a life long New Yorker, it never dawned on me that people do not know how to properly hail a cab, or what their rights are.
From experience, however, if you insist on a cab taking you to Brooklyn, even if the destination is barely over the Williamsburg Bridge, you will be treated to a ride long tirade. So if you have the option, find one who is a little bit willing...

Patricia said...

Thank you for 'splaining this!!

Naomid said...

Okay, but if you get in a cab, and say brooklyn, or the bronx then you better darn well know where you are going. I have been carried up and down borough streets for endless time resulting in higher fares. It does not seem to matter that they have navigation systems in their cars and radios, and friends in other cabs. No, you the passenger have to know.

Its better to ask before you get in. They have to take you, but you don't want that ride if they don't know where you are going.

Brian Dubé said...

Mary and Naomid - You both are correct. I avoided getting into this dual edged sword. Affirming your rights in a taxi can be akin to having a resentful surgeon working on you. Sometimes the resistance ro traveling the outer boroughs is due to the driver not knowing his way around, in which case, offering to navigate may allay fears. As an attorney friend always pointed out, there's the legal answer and the business or practical answer.

Sally Darling said...

As a NYC visitor I made sure to read up on the proper cab hailing rules years ago. I still find it funny, every time I visit, to see tourists trying to hail a cab when clearly they already have a passenger. I witnessed it with my own eyes last month, when my very own husband did it! I had to reach up and pull his arm down several times even after explaining to him the light rules that Brian mentioned.
However I didn't know that they had the option to pick you up if they felt like it, when they were off duty.

Anonymous said...

You are the best! Thanks a million! :)

Jen said...

Thanks for the tips. I visit NYC on a regular basis now and didn't know some of the tips here.

Though recently, I have to credit two New Yorkers with being very friendly and explaining that WHERE I was standing was preventing me from getting a cab. It turns out that there were designated taxi pick up areas near where I was that I was unaware of.

Also, when I did get to the right place, several unmarked cars pulled up asking if I wanted a cab. I declined. I don't know who or what these unmarked cars were, but reading up later on tourist taxi etiquette and procedures, it was advised NOT to take these vehicles. It could be costly in more ways than one.

Marked cab, numbers lit, off-duty unlit, right location. I got it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Not that the cab in this picture is the "thorny" combination - both lit. In this case, you will have to disclose your destination before getting in...