New York

TLC Acknowledges That Tourists Are Hopeless at Hailing Cabs


You know how one of the signs that separates the tourists from the locals is an inherent understanding of how to hail a cab? For example, in New York, you know that if the off duty light is on, the cab is off duty. And therefore, you do not hail it, although you will tell the guy where you’re going, and hope he says yes, if he stops to ask you. And then you will feel oddly rejected if he says no and drives off without you, and you will think to yourself, What an asshole. This is just how we do things. However, there are signs that the Taxi and Limousine Commission is at least considering maybe doing things differently down the road. Today we received a survey asking for input on the taxi roof light. Do we feel confused about it? Do we like it? Do we understand its varied uses and protocols? Would we hate it if the taxi roof light system changed?

(In fact, yes, we would, be upset, possibly even angry, because we do not like change very much. And how else to sneer at the tourists who mess up and try to hail off-duty cabs and then yell “What the fuck!?” when the cabs pass them by?)

Here’s how the taxi light system works now (impress your friends at home!):

The memo continues:

Although some passengers understand the lighting system, others (especially visitors) are confused by it. Some passengers mistakenly look for any illumination on the roof light and think this means the taxi is available. Especially from far away, some passengers think it is hard to see whether the taxi is off-duty or if it is available.

What results is that some passengers repeatedly try to hail off-duty taxis. Making it easy for all passengers to know when a taxi is available for a hail and when it is unavailable would improve customers’ experience with taxis and could reduce misunderstandings between drivers and passengers.

Thus, they want to know what we think about the single-light system, in which there is no confusing off-duty light and things work as follows:

Light on = the taxi is free. Hail it.

Light off = the taxi is off duty or full. Move along.

This is popular in London and other cities, and it’s clearly simpler than our complex protocol. Yet we have to ask: If we wanted things to be simple, why would we live in New York City at all?

The TLC’s Allan Fromberg tells us that this is not a done deal, by the way, and that “At this point, we’re just looking for input so we have the tools to explore the question.” Whew.

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