Thursday, January 29, 2009

Two Kinds Of Tickets

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that hardly ever happens to me:

I got a ticket.

Not a parking ticket, a moving violation ticket. The kind that adds points to your license.

And this reminded me of a truism I discovered quite a few years ago when it comes to tickets. And that is that there are two kinds of tickets:

1) the ticket where you are mad at yourself for having made such a dumb move, and

2) the ticket where you are mad at the cop for having been so mean that he would have written the ticket at all.

An example of the first kind of ticket would be, say, you make a left turn at an intersection where there is a sign that clearly says, "No Left Turns". You see the sign but you make the turn anyway. A cop sees you do this, pulls you over, and writes you a ticket.

You are mad at yourself. You knew you were doing something illegal but you did it anyway and you got caught. "Stupid dumb ass me," you say to yourself.

An example of the second kind of ticket would be this: you are approaching an intersection where there is a stop sign. When you get to the intersection you check to see that no other vehicles or pedestrians are present and bring your car almost to a stop but not completely to a full stop. As you proceed your speed is less than three miles per hour. A cop pulls you over for failing to stop at a stop sign and writes you a ticket.

You are mad at the cop. What you did might have been technically illegal but you were in good control and knew that your actions in that situation were completely safe. You don't introvert and call yourself a goddamned freaking moron for not having come to a full stop. You curse the cop instead (in your mind, of course).

Well, guess what kind of ticket I received? Here's a hint - I wasn't mad at myself.

Okay, this is what happened...

On a Monday night at 4 AM - the time of the night when the "city that never sleeps" is taking catnap - I was cruising down 2nd Avenue in Manhattan with a couple of cars in front of me but no cars behind me. I was in the middle of the avenue. Suddenly a person appeared on the sidewalk to my left waving at me in the classic "I want a taxi" fashion. As a veteran cabbie who has been in this situation once or twice during every shift for the last 31 years, I did two things:

a) I instantly checked my side view mirror to make sure no vehicles were behind me, and

b) I turned sharply, cutting across two lanes, and got to the passenger.

I knew, before I made the turn, that it was a safe move. No one had to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting me. No one had to step on their brake. In actuality, it was an expert maneuver made by a professional driver in order to do his job.

But the cop didn't see it that way.

The passenger, a twenty-something female, entered the cab and told me her destination. During the time it takes to open and close the rear door, our light turned red. Then, just after it changed to green and I began to move forward to begin the ride, a police car pulled up beside me and a not pleasant officer informed me that he wanted to see several pieces of identification. The passenger departed to seek another means of getting to point B. As I handed over my driver's license and the taxi's identification card to the officer, I knew immediately that I was in trouble. Because just as there are two kinds of tickets, there are two kinds of cops you may encounter in this situation:

1) The "let's talk about it" cop, and

2) The "there's nothing to talk about, so don't talk to me" cop.

With a "let's talk about it" cop you at least have a chance of talking your way out of it. Even by allowing conversation, the cop is saying, in effect, that he is willing to allow the possibility that he will let you off with a warning. I must say that in the past I have been quite successful in this situation.

But not this time.

This cop was a "there's nothing to talk about" cop. In fact, he might have even been a "if you dare to try to talk your way out of it I will find something else to write you a ticket for" cop. So, actually, there are 3 kinds of cops in this situation.

And apparently this cop was of that third variety because, even though I didn't say a word to him and handed him the papers he wanted to see, he thought multiple tickets for a single offense, if in fact there was an offense at all, was the way to go.

Did I say above that I got "a" ticket? Uh, correction... make that four tickets.

1) Unsafe lane change.

2) Failure to signal.

3) Not stopping within 12 inches of the curb when pulling over for a passenger. (Believe it or not, this absurd rule is actually on the books in New York City.)

4) Stopping in a crosswalk.

This was from a cop whose powers of observation were so good that he could see all of this from a full block behind me, but whose powers of observation were not so good that he couldn't avoid making several errors in trying to copy over the information from my driver's license onto the tickets he was writing.

When I got back to my garage and told the dispatchers and a couple of the drivers what had happened, I was informed (belatedly) that "the heat is on" in the city. And, in fact, I noticed in the following couple of weeks that an inordinate amount of taxis were being pulled over, and presumably ticketed, by the cops.

This situation - the possibility of being selected as fodder for ticket blitzes - is one of the crosses that New York City taxi drivers bear and I suspect is one of the main reasons that many competent people decide to get out of the taxi driving business. It's just too much to take, considering everything else we have to put up with.

And it reminds me of what I consider to be a fascinating observation about an aspect of life in New York City that I have made and I don't think anyone else has noticed. I would like to invite every New Yorker who may read this blog to consider this.

Here is the observation: we have over 13,000 yellow medallion cabs and many more thousands of car service vehicles roaming the streets of the city. Some of these drivers are amazingly competent and some of them are not. But competent or not, one thing even a casual observer would notice is that taxis are pulled over by police cars all the time. I see it every night.

However, we also have in New York, thousands of buses crowding the streets. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of garbage trucks roaming around, apparently, with impunity. And we also have quite a few newspaper delivery trucks making their rounds. During my years as a cabbie I have seen countless instances of buses gridlocking intersections, running red lights, and cutting off other vehicles (although I do think, generally speaking, that bus drivers are highly competent). I have seen garbage trucks commit every imaginable traffic offense frequently. And I see newspaper delivery trucks running red lights and speeding every night.

But here's what I have not seen. And I think this is so amazing that I will put it in boldface:

I have never seen, not even once in 31 years, a bus, a garbage truck, nor a newspaper delivery truck pulled over by a cop. Not once!

And if you're a New Yorker, I'll bet you haven't either.

Isn't that amazing? I have always assumed that the reason for this is that the fix is in with the city due to agreements made with their unions. The taxi drivers, of course, have no union.

Anyway, I pleaded "not guilty" to the tickets and now have a court appearance scheduled for April.

The story of which I will post in this blog. So stay tuned.


And while you're staying tuned, why not click here for Pictures From A Taxi? It's free and you won't get pulled over by a cop. I mean, unless maybe if you're also driving while you're clicking. That would be bad.


Jerry Parker said...

Obviously, you are driving the wrong type of vehicle. Personally, I prefer my taxi over a garbage truck, but maybe the freedom they enjoy could be worth it. Hmmmmmm.
Yellow Cab driver in Los Angeles.

NYC taxi photo said...

oi, that is some bad luck!

totally agree with you. I love the competence of most if not all bus drivers, but the garbage trucks!! and the newspaper trucks!! they break more rules than police vehicles, the redlights, the four-lane crossovers and the complete street blocking, it is absurd!!

I'm sure as a veteran cabbie you know that you have a good chance of limiting the damage with a good traffic lawyer, from 4 tickets to 1. I got a double ticket at 32nd and 7th ave reduced to one ticket in my first year of driving. those lawyers will cost one hundred maybe a little more, but who knows, they might get you off, and all those points on all those tickets, that might get you a suspension. I wish you the best man. the more we get tickets, the more this business is going to be filled with incompetent drivers, people cabbing for a year and then getting out when they get too many tickets.

Real cab driver said...

Bummer, you'll definately have to go to court to get it reduced, and if it was me, I'd have my attorney with me. That said.....

I had a cop swing in behind me last night around 1:00 am. I went past him doing a little more than 5 over, and he probably got a picture of me doing that. He stayed back quite a way, but since he followed me almost 2 miles into Middleton, I knew he was waiting for me to give him a better opportunity. What's a better opportunity? Allow me to offer my view of tickets, especially late at night.

All cops want their numbers. That's why you got a bunch of tickets, you're a captive audience, pulled over, might as well write as many as possible. The cop knows you'll go to court so if 1/3 of them stick, the numbers relative to the time are favorable. They don't have a quota, they can write as many as they want, but they do need numbers for things like promotions, so unlike a quota, they need all they can get, not simply a quota amount.

You're bad luck was doing it when that cop had nothing better to do. If you were to say this to the cop, you might get tossed in jail for saying something so insolent, but it's true. 4:00 am, it's slow, it's been slow all night what with the economic downturn and all, AH HAH that cab just did something.

If you sit at any corner for an hour you'll see a lot of things which could result in a ticket. You have to stand out in the crowd to be the one who warrents the expenditure of time. Well, if NOBODY is out, and it's been slow, nobody is going out, all of a sudden you're the only one doing something sketchy. Really bad luck Gene, but expect this kind of chicken caca to continue for the foreseeable future.

Jerry Parker said...

Speaking seriously, it happens everywhere. When you drive the most visible vehicle on the road, you get noticed. The LAPD and the Airport Police lay in wait for us too.

Dispatch Her said...

Interesting. The cabs here almost have immunity. While they do get pulled over occasionally and many of the drivers kind of budget for tickets considering that the cabs are out there (and breaking traffic laws) every day it's ridiculous how rarely they get pulled over.

Gilighan Qabista said...

Dear Gene,
It breaks my heart to see this happen to an estimable pro such as yourself. I happened to be talking about the same subject on this latest post I just finished, so I made link and reference to your blog on that paragraph. Hope you don't mind. You may not get any respect from the blue meanies, but you have it from us yellow siblings with a conscience.

Gilighan Qabista said...

I also mentioned and linked to this entry on my other blog:
Feel free to offer constructive criticism. Thanks boss.

Anonymous said...

Nowdays since the economy is so bad there are no "let's talk about it cops". They are ticketing cabs left and right. Be Carefull this is going to be a tough year.

Skyring said...

he couldn't avoid making several errors in trying to copy over the information from my driver's license onto the tickets he was writing.

You've got him right there. Any competent lawyer should be able to cast doubt on his powers of observation from a block back in poor lighting if he couldn't even get basic information correct under conditions of his own choosing.

Sam said...

I'm fortunate to drive in an area where cops are more inclined to put on the strobe for a few seconds to sort of say, "I see you misbehaving so, cut it out." This may be due to the fact that cab companies here, and in nearby communities, are chronically short of drivers who can get through a shift - let alone do it well.
At any rate, why are cabbies singled out when there's a crack down? Cities grow and, as a result, need more thoroughfares which means expense to the taxpayer; disruption and detours during construction and other dangerous political controversy. So, fall back on blame the victim. The professional who has to work day after day on inadequate streets gets more visibly frustrated than the driver who's on those streets once in a while.
Again; why taxi drivers and not bus or garbage truck drivers? Could be partly to do with your comment about their influential unions. Could it also be due to the fact that virtually all drivers are in an indepentant position where we don't have to worry about co workers who are sometimes disruptive? Buses, trucks and the like have schedules and set routes. Taxis provide the most independence and, as a result, draw those who are aggressively independant. If I'm bored with the "nice" part of town or depressed by negativity in another part - I work my way over to different area. This seems to draw a high percentage of high potential low achievers. Many of us dropped out of college or university for no apparent good reason.
Do we have some quality that worries authority and leads them to slap us down? Or, am I being an escapist who jumps to the conspiracy theory? Or, some of both?

G.S. said...

Sam, thanks for your thoughts. I still think in NYC it comes down to no union = no clout = no fear = easy target for tickets. With 13,187 taxis, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.