The NY Times ran across an obscure NYC rule that prohibits anyone hailing a taxi cab for someone "not in his or her social company." Which is why Juan Bannister, a homeless man who got a cab for someone at 7th Avenue in Midtown (and received a $1.50 tip), got into trouble with the law. Wow, if only cops would be that hard on drivers who blow stop signs or fail to yield to pedestrians!
Bannister, who was also "charged with criminal nuisance for blocking traffic," got a summons for the taxi hail, which made illegal in 1992. Apparently it was prompted by hustlers who would scam cab passengers by getting cabs for people and then demanding the full fare:
The practice was widespread at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, where tourists, unfamiliar with the city’s cab trade, would hand over $80 to the friendly man who helped with their luggage. By the time they reached their destination, and realized the mistake, the scam artist was long gone.
“When I drove years ago, it happened to me,” said David Pollack, the editor of Taxi Insider, an industry publication. “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.’ ”
Variations abounded: slam the trunk shut, but slyly keep the luggage; demand a tip for, among other unnecessary services, holding open the taxi door.
While the rule apparently makes it illegal for someone who is not the passenger or drive to open or close a taxi's door, there are exceptions: It's okay if the passenger asks for help and you can hail a cab for someone if you don't expect a tip (if you get one, then that's just gravy, right?). Of course, there are scams that involve taxi drivers themselves...