Dear Margaret

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:02

    On a recent cold night in the city, a friend and I called for a cab using an iPhone app. The app confirmed that a taxi was en route and would be arriving in 6 minutes. After about 2 minutes had passed, an available cab drove by and we quickly decided to flag it down and hop in, not wanting to wait longer than necessary in the frigid weather. We cancelled the other cab and were on our way. Mentioning this later to another friend, she thought we were "abusing the system" and that what we did was wrong. What do you think?

    Righteous Rider

    The dynamics between cab drivers and passengers have shifted in the past several years, in favor of the passenger, and with that comes a shift in ethics too.

    The understood rule used to be that one may scramble and shove and lie and overpay and generally do whatever is necessary to secure oneself a yellow cab. That's because until recently, the cab drivers held all the power; there were few of them, and they knew it, and they would wield their power to select the best fares and had the luxury of refusing to go too near or too far or to a sketchy neighborhood (though the threat of reporting these violations to the TLC has also become more concrete with the ubiquity of cell phones). Despite the occasional attempts by passengers to rectify these injustices through reporting, or shouting, or other sorts of witchcraft, New Yorkers have been at the mercy of the medallion holders for decades.

    But all that's beginning to change, with more yellow cabs on the streets, green cabs for the outer boroughs, and the brand new ability to hail taxis and livery cabs through services like Uber, Gett and Lyft. Now the passengers have the power, and with that comes many questions about how we should use it.

    Your specific situation is a perfect example of the small violation that doesn't feel like a big deal at the time. You were freezing. The cab you summoned was still several minutes away ? and who knows if that estimate was accurate? You were exercising your right as a New Yorker to get where you wanted to go as fast as possible. Presumably, the first driver saw the cancellation of your ride and was able to pick up another fare immediately. But maybe not ? and that's where the ethical quandary lies.

    Most of us don't intend to screw over a hard-working (and generally low-paid, by the way) cab driver when we nix one car in favor of another in closer proximity. Still, that's what we're doing when we ask, via telephone or smartphone app or smoke signal, a driver to stop looking for fares, head in our direction, and expect to find a customer and instead leave them searching the street corners in frustration. You may think you've only wasted 3 minutes of their time, but the driver may have ignored several other potential passengers on his way to pick you up, and also may not get the cancellation message instantly. If wires get crossed, the driver could end up circling the block a few times looking for you before they give up and get on with their shift, losing valuable metered minutes.

    Unless there are dire circumstances ? a woman in labor, an unhinged man swiftly approaching with a homemade weapon in hand, a sale at Barney's that's about to end ? the right thing to do is wait for the cab you called. (There is a caveat, of course, if the driver still hasn't arrived 15 minutes or so after the estimated pick-up time and attempts have been made to contact him. Most of the hailing apps include the driver's phone number, so a quick call to find out his ETA and confirm your location is easy.)

    If you can't muster up sympathy for the cab drivers ? which you should ? think of it as self-preservation for passengers. If drivers start to notice that half of the people who hail them via app are no-shows, they'll stop showing too. Or they'll agree to get you, and then throw you over for the person hailing them on the street one block away. No one likes to get upstreamed, and cab drivers don't like to get stood up. The less we perpetrate these crimes against one another, the less frequent they'll become, and we can look forward to a utopian day in the future of de Blasio's New York when everyone is matched with their own private flying car that's never late and never lost.

    Now if someone could take care of the Taxi TVs, we'd be all set.

    Do you have a question for Margaret? Email with the subject line "Ask Margaret."