WHILE MANHATTAN'S urbanologists and social commentators finish drawing their various "lessons from the transit strike," there is already one strike-born improvisation having to do with taxis that appears destined to become a permanent way of mobile life in the Big Apple -- and as in their custom, the city's cabbies can hardly wait. To hear them tell it (which is not all that difficult), necessity is the mother of the group ride -- a practice that is old hat in other cities but only this month was an experiment in togetherness during New York's strike. Now there's talk of allowing group riding regularly during rush hours -- a prospect that has set off more than a little discussion throughout the city's fleets of hackers.
As veterans of group riding in Washington know, this practice benefits drivers as well as passengers.By filling up his taxi, the driver can make more money and move more people; in turn, the passengers can enjoy scenery they would never see if they were driven directly to their destinations, for many hackers are willing to go well out of their way -- and yours -- to accommodate anybody else who hopped in after you did.
But in New York there's one catch to the proposal that complicates the group ride: the meter.The change being considered would operate much as it did during the strike. The first passenger would name a destination and then pay the full fare on the meter on arrival. Fair enough, but here comes the fun part: in transit, this initial passenger and the driver would be able to veto any subsequent passengers, who, if picked up, would pay the difference between what the meter read at that point and what it read when they got out.
Just imagine the dialogue -- monologue, more than likely -- emerging from this collective bargaining on wheels: Who will mediate between front and back seat over the relative qualifications of a prospective customer? Will the curb-side candidate be allowed to testify, or even butt in once in a while? We should live so long.