Hack Job Part I: The games taxi drivers play

Posted at 10:53 PM, Feb 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-19 21:40:10-05

(NEW YORK) –  Has this happened to you? [1] Taxi cab with its off-duty light on pulls up [2] driver asks’ “where are you going?”

Right there a rule has been broken. While the off-duty light is used during taxi changeover, a year-long PIX11 investigation found drivers are using it as a common practice to ‘pick’ their rides, which is not allowed under the city’s rules. The vast majority of city taxi cabs belong to fleets for which shift-change generally takes place between 4pm to 5pm and again between 4am to 5am. During which time a driver is permitted to ask “are you going my way?”

The difference is subtle but important – if a driver states which way he or she is headed for the cab’s handover, it maintains an appearance of propriety.

Hack Job

The off-duty “where you going?” question, far from the shift-change hour and used in mass, is considered “cherry-picking” within the taxi industry, and is illegal. But in recent years, the practice has become blatantly common on nights when demand is high – often on weekends in nightlife intensive neighborhoods including the Lower East Side, East Village, SoHo, West  Village, and the Meatpacking District.

During the course of the PIX11 investigation, drivers admitted to using the off-duty lights to avoid taking passengers to outer boroughs even though TLC drivers are required by law to take passengers anywhere within the 5 boroughs. Even passengers going to Manhattan were denied by drivers who did not want to make multiple stops or go across town. Drivers told PIX11 crosstown trips often take longer and since the meter runs more slowly at red lights or in traffic, they refuse the passenger under the guise of being “off-duty.”

Part II of our series “Hack Job” features an inside look at a TLC crackdown and an interview with TLC Commissioner David Yassky who attempts to hail a cab to Brooklyn, where he actually lives.