NYC taxi cab mixed signals
September 16, 2011 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Okay, I've been living in NYC over ten years, but there's something about taxi cabs that still confuses me. I understand what the cab lights mean most of the time. Cab number light is off = cab has a passenger. Cab number light is on = cab is available. Off duty lights are on = cab is off duty. But what about when both the number light and the off duty sign are on at the same time?

I've been constantly baffled by these mixed signals. I've tried to hail these cabs before, and I get no consistent behavior. Sometimes they stop and take me, sometimes they zip right past me, sometimes they stop and the driver doesn't want to take me where I'm going, sometimes they'll turn the meter on, sometimes they'll just give you an estimated fare.

What is the deal? Is there no actual rhyme and reason to this behavior? Are the cabbies just doing it to get my hopes up when it's raining?
posted by whitneyarner to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've tried to hail these cabs before, and I get no consistent behavior.

I think this might be the truth of it. Some cabbies don't seem to know which lights are even on, if any. Because they are in a hurry, or on drugs, or talking on the phone, or listening to God talking at the base of their brain.
posted by hermitosis at 9:46 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Taxis are not allowed to discriminate based on destination, it is illegal. To get around this, some taxi drivers will put their off-duty lights on, then ask where you're going and if you're going somewhere they like, they'll take you. This has a lot to do with them having to get their car back to the garage before the end of their shift, but there are definitely cabs who take advantage of this to avoid having to take fares that they don't like.

My proposed solution to this is the following: Try to hail any cab you can, if the one who does stop to pick you up has his "off duty" lights on, and only takes you after deciding he likes your destination, DO NOT TIP ONE DAMN PENNY. And then tell him why. If enough people do this, maybe the lights will become meaningful again, and the spirit of the law will be upheld.
posted by Grither at 9:48 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


They may be hedging their bets. Cabs that are off-duty occasionally seem to pick you up if you're already going the way they're headed.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:49 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I've been unable to work out a pattern to the lights as well. I think it may be just as simple as cabbies not really paying attention or caring what lights are showing. And I also have a suspicion that they may try to appear to be unavailable so that they only have to pull over for the fares they think they'll like (like, not going to Brooklyn).
posted by coupdefoudre at 9:49 AM on September 16, 2011


Yeah, those lights don't mean a damn thing. You're better off hailing every cab that passes by than trying to figure out if the guy remembered to switch the right beacon on.
posted by griphus at 9:49 AM on September 16, 2011


When both the off-duty lights AND the number lights are on, the cabbie is technically off-duty, but MAY give you a lift if your destination is not too far out of his way.

Some cabbies don't bother to check at all. I've had some just ignore me, and some pull over, ask wehre I wanted to go, and turn me down. And some will pull over and ask where I wanted to go, think, and say, "oh, what the hell, okay."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


griphus: "Yeah, those lights don't mean a damn thing."

I think these days, that if the center light is not illuminated, it means that the meter is running and there is a fare inside the cab(off duty lights on or not). I'm pretty sure they are linked directly, as in when the cabbie starts the meter, the light in the middle on the roof automatically turns off.

I could be wrong, though.
posted by Grither at 9:53 AM on September 16, 2011


If the off duty lights are on they don't have to take fares. So sometimes they set them that way to give them the option, even when they really are cruising for fares. A cab driver told me he was planning to do this on 9/11/11 so that he wouldn't have to go downtown.

So that's one reason they might stop for you even when they are "off duty".

They're always required to run and charge by the meter unless you're going outside the city, except to Westchester and Nassau counties and Newak Airport.
posted by Jahaza at 9:53 AM on September 16, 2011


I'm pretty sure they are linked directly, as in when the cabbie starts the meter, the light in the middle on the roof automatically turns off.

True, but I've been taking in (yellow) cabs on a flat rate plenty of times because both the driver and I needed to go to Brooklyn.
posted by griphus at 9:54 AM on September 16, 2011


Taxi drivers are unhappy with with the metered fare structure so they play games to maximize their $/hour, at the expense of clueless passengers and medallion owners. Because of the fixed entry price ($2.50 during the day or $3.00 at night) it makes sense to take a short fare on the meter. It doen't necessarily make sense to take a long fare on the meter.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2011


griphus: "True, but I've been taking in (yellow) cabs on a flat rate plenty of times because both the driver and I needed to go to Brooklyn."

Yeah, so basically, if the middle light is off, don't bother waving your arms around at them. But that doesn't mean that if the middle light is on, they'll definitely pick you up, as they might already have a flat rate fare inside or something.
posted by Grither at 9:58 AM on September 16, 2011


If a cabbie is truly off-duty but doesn't have a passenger, he can leave his light on and he is technically only allowed to pick up fares that are on his way back to his garage or home:

(8) A Driver who has illuminated the "Off Duty" light must not solicit or accept a Passenger unless ALL of the following are true:
(i) The Driver is returning the Taxicab to his or her garage or home.
(ii) The Driver has transmitted the relevant information to an electronic database for entry on the electronic trip record or made a written trip record entry "Returning to garage (or home)".
(iii) The Passenger's destination is directly on the route to the Driver’s home or garage.
(iv) When the last passenger is discharged, the Driver must lock the doors and return to his garage or home.


From The TLC's website; PDF of full rules here.
posted by bedhead at 10:05 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


I want to second bedhead, I have gotten a lot of off duty cabs because my apt was on the way to the garage. If they stop when they are off duty they always ask where you are going. One of my more interesing rides was the one where we stopped off to pick up the driver's wife who was ending her shift at the USPS building on the west side. She had promised a few other people a ride and I ended up with a stranger on my lap and I still had to pay!
posted by Ad hominem at 11:49 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]



Taxis are not allowed to discriminate based on destination, it is illegal.


My tip on this, GET IN THE CAB. Then say where you're going. Usually they will grumble but take you ( I live just barely into Brooklyn, so mileage may vary if you're talking Bay Ridge or something).

Sometimes they get really weird and belligerent, and then just GET OUT OF THE CAB, write down their license number etc.

Also re the lights: I just wave at all of them.
posted by sweetkid at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Grither: "My proposed solution to this is the following: Try to hail any cab you can, if the one who does stop to pick you up has his "off duty" lights on, and only takes you after deciding he likes your destination, DO NOT TIP ONE DAMN PENNY. And then tell him why. If enough people do this, maybe the lights will become meaningful again, and the spirit of the law will be upheld."

Seriously? Don't be a dick, just give the guy a tip. Most cabbies with off-duty lights on are legitimately off duty and are allowed to only take people who live on the way. You're not going to tip those because a few might take advantage?
posted by User7 at 9:49 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just want to say, never, ever be one of those people screaming at a cab driver because you think his lights are set up wrong. You look like an asshole, and the cab driver doesn't give a fuck. He gets yelled at all the time.
posted by !Jim at 11:34 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


More info for this topic: Hailed down a cab with both lights on this morning, and he told me that he was off duty, but he didn't have to have the car back to the garage until 9AM, so he could take short fares until then. Had the meter running as usual, normal ride.
posted by whitneyarner at 8:20 AM on September 27, 2011




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