IF YOU TAKE cabs, take heart: there is a ray of hope for all who have spent significant portions of their lives trying to hail the taxis of this city. As the result of a case involving the refusal of a cab driver to carry a blind man's dog, there is now a ruling that cab companies as well as drivers are liable when a driver refuses to pick up a passenger -- and this isn't limited to physically handicapped people, either.

Getting a cab may take a long time, but sometime getting even with a snooty cab driver can take even longer, as this case demonstrated. It stemmed from an incident nearly five years ago, when a cab driver called to a home first refused to take the man's dog, then said he would -- but for an additional fare. A freind of the blind man took the license number and eventually the compaint was pursued through the cab company, Barwood Cab, inc.

The ruling, issued by the D.C. Human Rights Commission, points out the responsibility of companies for their drivers by noting that people who phone for cabs don't call a driver's name, they call his company. And as for any waves of the future by people on the streets, the same thing will hold, the commission says.

Barwood has been ordered to pay damages and expenses and to post a notice stating that it is "unlawful discriminatory practice" to deny taxicab accommodations to anyone for a number of reasons, including race, color, personal appearance, or place of residence or business. While this may seem to be a statement of the obvious, it's news, unfortunately, to too many drivers.

Maybe now the cab companies will take closer looks at how their drivers are behaving, because all too often these days, cabbies are driving people not to their destinations, but to distraction. The industry's hard-working, honest majority of drivers shouldn't have to suffer as a result, either.

Still, you won't get a guaranteed ride merely by waving a copy of the ruling at the next empty cab you see. When drivers refuse service because they don't like you or your itinerary, they do so on the assumption that people won't report them. But the District officials who hear these cases stand ready to act -- in fact, they say they wish the public would refer more of these cases to them for action. With better policing and documentation of such abuses, still other rules can be made to crack down on the most flagrant scofflaws in the taxi business.