Zvi was working in his office in the city. Toward the end of the day his wife called. “Do you remember that we have our cousin’s wedding tonight?” she asked. “You need to get home as fast as you can!”
“Yes, I remember,” Zvi replied. “I’m planning to take a taxi.”
At 5:00 sharp Zvi headed out of the office to the street. He raised his hand and hailed the next available cab. He provided the cabbie his address and was surprised to find that the cab driver was a religious Jew.
“I usually take the train,” Zvi said. “But we have a cousin’s wedding tonight and I have to get home quickly.”
“I’ll try my best,” said the driver, “but it is rush hour.”
After heading crosstown, they finally got on the highway. Traffic was moving slowly, but steadily.
“Looks OK,” said the driver. “Not bad for rush hour.”
No sooner had he said this than the traffic slowed considerably and then came to a complete standstill.
“What’s going on?” Zvi asked the driver.
The driver turned on his radio. “Major accident on the highway,” they heard over the radio. “Traffic is at complete standstill due to intense police activity. Avoid the area and take alternate routes.”
Zvi looked at his watch. “Is there any way to get off the highway?” he asked the driver.
“The next exit is a quarter-mile from here,” said the driver. “But I can’t budge an inch. We’re stuck in a parking lot!”
Meanwhile, the taximeter continued to tick, adding 50 cents every minute. After twenty minutes, they hadn’t progressed at all, and the fare had increased $10. “People all around were getting out of their cars to look and stretch their legs.
Finally, Zvi turned to the driver. “We could be stuck here another half hour, and then we have to deal with all the traffic buildup,” he said. “I’m better taking the train! I’m getting off here. What does the meter read?”
“You’re leaving me stuck in the traffic to lose more time after I’ve already wasted twenty minutes here?” replied the taxi driver. “That’s not fair to me!”
“It’s not my fault there was an accident,” replied Zvi. “I didn’t cause you the loss.”
“But you hired me to take you home,” argued the taxi driver. “You’re leaving me in the middle of the job.”
“The fare is determined by the meter,” reasoned Zvi. “If I end here – that’s it.”
“I attend a business halacha shiur,” said the cab driver. “We learned that if an employer retracts in the middle of a job he owes the worker compensation for the reminder of the job.”
“I’m not sure that applies here,” said Zvi. “But I just installed the new ‘Dial-a-Dayan’ app on my phone. We can ask Rabbi Dayan.”
“Wow!” exclaimed the driver. “I never knew there was such an application.”
“Just kidding,” laughed Zvi. “But I do have Rabbi Dayan’s phone number.”
Zvi called Rabbi Dayan and presented the issue. “Do I owe the driver anything for the remainder of the trip?” he asked.
“There is a difference between a car service driver, who is paid a flat amount for the ride, and a taxi driver, whose fare is determined by the meter,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “In a car service, you have to compensate the driver if you stop in the middle of the ride; in a taxi, you do not.”
“Why should that make a difference?” asked Zvi.
“Once the worker begins a job, he has a commitment to complete it and the owner has a commitment to provide him the salary,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, if the owner retracts in the middle of the job, he still owes the worker compensation for the remainder of the salary. He can deduct a certain amount, though, since the worker now has free time and, in this case, saves on gasoline for the remaining distance. This is called k’poel batel – like an idle worker.” (C.M. 333:2)
“Why is a taxi different then?” asked Zvi.
“For two reasons,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “First, a taxi can usually find another customer who will pay the same fare.”
“This makes sense in routine circumstances, where the taxi driver can pick up new passengers,” said Zvi. “But here the driver is stuck and cannot pick up anyone!”
“Nonetheless, the fare in a taxi is based on distance traveled and time elapsed,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The exact job and its fare are not predetermined; they depend on the route the cab takes and traffic conditions. The only agreement is that the price should reflect the meter reading; each unit is considered a separate hiring. Thus, even though you initially asked for a trip home, you are entitled to stop anywhere that you wish.” (D’var Chok U’mishpat, p. 245)
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to email@example.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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