Bannister flagged down a cab, placed the stranger’s luggage in the trunk and received a tip of $1.50. Shortly after, he was arrested and charged, improbably, with the unlawful hailing of a taxi.
A little known New York City traffic rule forbids anyone from hailing a taxi for another person “not in his or her social company.”
Bannister, who is homeless, could not be arrested just because of this offence, however, it can result in summons that must be answered in Criminal Court – he was also charged with criminal nuisance for blocking traffic. The Manhatten district attorney’s office has prosecuted 109 cases that included a violation of unlawful hailing, since 2009, officials said.
Not many New Yorkers seem to be aware of the rule. John Campbell, whose firm Tilem & Campbell, handles a variety of vehicular and pedestrian violations in NYC, said “I’ve done thousands of cases related to traffic — I’ve never seen this charge.”
Years ago, people roaming the roads demanding tips in return for washing windshields or loading luggage into cabs were common. An example is someone who would assist unsuspecting tourists, who were unfamiliar with the taxi trade, into the cabs then request the whole fare upfront. Once the passengers reached their destination and realised the mistake, the scammer had disappeared a long time ago and such ‘theft’ is not covered by their travel insurance or the cab’s taxi insurance.
David Pollack, the editor of Taxi Insider explains how it happened to him “When I drove years ago, it happened to me.
“I say, ‘You forgot to pay me.’ And they say, ‘We already paid.’ I say, ‘What?’ ‘Well, we paid the gentleman who put the luggage in the trunk.’”
The rules state that if a passenger initiates the request for someone else to hail a cab, it is allowed.
Nowadays, the police have cracked down on the scammers, and they are usually summoned in conjunction with other charges e.g. fraud.
Bannister pleaded guilty to the charges against him and was put behind bars for 7 days.