"This is snow emergency day," the hacker said firmly. "They announced it on the radio. It's official. Each passenger has to pay double today."

So they all paid, and went off to work grumbling. Whether you've just arrived in town from Georgia or have lived here for a decade, you're not likely to challenge a man who sounds so sure of himself.

Later, one of the passengers asked, "What is the rule on snow emergency days? Did the Public Service Commission really give hackers the right to charge double the normal rate?"

The answer is no.

The hacker's double price was news to PSC officials.

A couple of years ago, when gasoline was scarce and hackers had been waiting for a fare increase for a long time, the PSC did give them an incentive for working on snow days. During a snow emergency, hackers were permitted to charge full fare to each "shared ride" passenger.

Later, however, the PSC authorized hackers to charge each shared ride passenger full fare at all times. In effect, therefore, the snow emergency rates now apply to shared rides whether it is snowing or isn't. The declaration of an emergency affects only "group" riders.

What's the difference between a group ride and a shared ride? Group riders are people who travel together; they all get into the cab at the same time and they all get out at the same time. A shared ride occurs when a cab driver who already has a passenger and a destination stops to pick up another passenger.

Hackers are permitted to charge full individual fares to group riders on a snow emergency day. They can charge full individual fares to "shared riding" passengers on any day.

If you're newly arrived from Georgia and one of our hackers tries to charge you double because there's snow on the ground or because it's Inaugural Day, my advice to you is this: Look him right in the eye and call him a dam Yankee swindler.

And if you're bigger than he is, don't smile when you say it.