Lights Out for NYC Taxi "Off Duty" Lights

Thursday, November 29, 2012 - 04:54 PM

The question of "is that taxi free or not?" could soon be easier to answer in New York. On Thursday, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to do away with the off-duty lights. Here's a visual:

Whereas once there were two categories of lights, with four combinations:

(photo by magnus via filckr)

The city's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to just have this -- the medallion number:

(photo "adjusted" by WNYC's Stephen Nessen)

David Yassky, the TLC commissioner, said off-duty taxi lights "are a relic of bygone days" and that the rules change will make the system easier to understand.

"The only purpose it serves today is to confuse the passenger," he said, adding that the TLC hears complaints "all time" about rooftop lights. "Taxi roof lights should be simple.  If it's on, it means you can flag the cab down. If it's off, it's unavailable."

(Only one commissioner voted against the proposal: Iris Weinshall, a former NYC transportation commissioner who was in the news last year for her dislike of the Prospect Park West bike lane.)

Yassky said people hailing cabs don't care about the particulars of the lighting system. "The passenger only cares if the cab is available or not."

He said he hopes the new system will do away with another perennial vexation -- the way some cabbies use the off-duty light to cherry-pick customers. "It's a source of frustration (for passengers)," he said. "Sometimes they see drivers with the off-duty sign on go from person to person asking 'where are you going' and we don't want that to happen."

That's currently possible because the switch controlling the lights is manual. But when the off-duty lights fade away, so will the driver's control over the roof light.

According to the minutes of the May 2012 public hearing on the rules change, the single light roof light would eliminate the manual switch that controls the off-duty light. Instead, it would be controlled automatically and synched with the meter. So when the meter is engaged, the medallion number light will automatically turn off, and when the trip is over, the light will turn back on.

The new rule technically takes effect 30 days after being posted in the city record. But there could still be off duty lights on top of cabs until April, which is the end of the first quarter inspection period.



Comments [7]


I don't get it. How will the driver end his shift and get back to the garage on time? The off-duty light seems to serve a purpose.

The better change would be to NOT have the driver shift change be at 5pm... peak cab-hailing hour!

But, it seems to me, they need control of when they are Off-Duty. The only reason they "cherry pick" those rides at 5pm is to try and make more money (for themselves and whomever owns the medallion) on their way to turn the car back in. It seems they are trying to serve customers and also end on time.

I feel as if this is so ridiculous, that I must be missing a piece. I've read the article several times, and it makes no sense. The TLC just seems like a big bully.

May. 04 2013 12:57 AM

This is really quite bad for day drivers. Most lease the car daily from a garage and must return it by 5 pm. After 3:30 pm or so, they have to make sure they don't pick up a long trip, JFK, for example, otherwise they won't be able to get back in time. The off duty light gives drivers the right of refusal. Disastrous change for no good reason.

Jan. 15 2013 03:44 PM

Hi that's a good idea but you not thinking about passengers and driver if cab is off duty passengers want go his way he not pick it up may passenger waiting long time to get taxi that think is not go to the passenger favor that way this no good thanks

Nov. 30 2012 12:43 PM

Same question as Matthias - if the light is always on when the meter is not running, how does the driver turn off the light when he or she is off duty?

Nov. 30 2012 12:42 PM

It seems Ms. Weinshall is against any kind of change. Matthias posed the same question that came to me when reading the story. The light is supposed to go "off" when the meter is engaged. That means the driver can never be off duty unless there are passengers?

Nov. 30 2012 11:58 AM

"So when the meter is engaged, the medallion number light will automatically turn off, and when the trip is over, the light will turn back off."

Do you mean turn back on?

What happens when the driver goes off duty? Does the meter have to be engaged?

Nov. 30 2012 10:14 AM
Bob Bowers

This is a good development. Now, perhaps someone can address the serious problem of shift changes right in the middle of the afternoon rush hour. It is maddening to try to catch a cab in midtown anytime between 4:00 to 5:00 PM when there are hundreds of empty cabs rushing by so they can get to their garage to change drivers. This is simply ridiculous. Changing shifts during peak usage doesn't make any sense. Thank you.

Nov. 29 2012 05:38 PM

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