Raise the roof light

A typical weekend cherry-picker

A typical weekend cherry-picker

“So let me ask you something…”


“What’s the deal with the roof lights? Seems like half of the Taxis are off-duty right now but it’s Saturday night.”

“Well, not this cab. I don’t play that game and any cab driver worth his salt won’t have the off-duty lights on unless he’s legitimately going on break.”

I can’t even begin to describe how many times I’ve had this conversation or something similar to this since I started driving. One of the things we went through in Taxi school how was to go off duty, which involved three steps:

1) Lock the doors

2) Put the off-duty lights on

3) Log off and go take your break for as long as need be

Want to guess how many drivers actually do this? If I had to guess, I’d say that very few actually go by the rules like we’re supposed to. One of the perks of my job is that I can take a break whenever I wish, as long as my vehicle doesn’t have any passengers in it. It’s not something I do often but when nature or hunger pangs call, no one tells me to “get back to work” or to wait until a designated break time.

The big problem with the off-duty lights as currently construed is that it is *not* linked to the computer/gps that we have to log into before the start of a shift. What that means is that drivers can be on-duty with the off-duty lights on, with the ability to abuse the pickup of passengers via cherry-picking. Among all of the changes that the yellow cab industry will be undergoing in the next few years is an overhaul of this roof light system. In an ideal world, the lights would be gone and replaced with nice, bright LED green and red bulbs. The former would be for any cab available and the latter would cover cabs that would be occupied, off-duty, mechanically disabled, and so on.

Until then, the antiquated lights remain. For anyone unfamiliar with the way cabdrivers use them now, here’s a 101 on how to read them the next time you’re in the Big Apple:

1) Center light on, off-duty lights off: Cab is empty and read to take a fare. Hail away!

2) Center light off, off-duty lights off. Cab is occupied with a passenger.

3) Center light on, off-duty lights on: Cabdriver is most likely cherry-picking. God forbid you’re going to an outer Borough or to a place that the driver doesn’t want to take you to. You’re about to get an excuse from the driver that reeks of B.S., but you the passenger will be the one shoveling it once the Taxi speeds away.

4) Center light off, off-duty lights on: Cabdriver has taken a passenger to a spot that is more than likely within Manhattan or to a spot where the driver thinks he can “flip” (find another fare after discharging the passenger) the fare quickly.

Yes, it’s illegal to ride around cruising while keeping the off-duty lights on but if TLC got a complaint every time this happened, 311 would crash almost instantly. Keep in mind that the only time we’re supposed to ride around like in Option 3 is a half hour before the end of our shift, when the Taxi is on its way back to the garage and must be there at a designated time for the shift change. Lucky New Yorkers who live in Astoria, Long Island City, or Sunnyside can always get a ride across the Queensboro Bridge at 4:30 since hordes of yellow cabs are making their way back to their respective garages before the rush does them in.

I don’t worry about the changes coming – smartphone apps, outer Borough Taxis, the Taxi of the Future, or the new rooflights. Drivers who don’t own the medallions aren’t tied down to the vehicles and we have enough outlets to vent the problems that exist in our industry. If anything, Taxis need to change with the world around them and if it has to start with the way that passengers see and hail us, so be it. I just wish that all of these improvements would have more input from the people who actually make the system run instead of those who control the strings from above.

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