Sunday, February 01, 2015
Passenger under no obligation to help pay for cabbie's mistake
C.N. was traveling in the United Arab Emirates when she hailed a cab. Unprompted by C.N., the driver chose to go through a light that was turning red to get C.N. to her destination faster. C.N. figures that had the driver waited for the green light, it would have taken them several more minutes -- and several more Euros on the meter -- to reach her destination.
Police saw the cab driver run the light, pulled him over and issued a fine.
"The cost of the cab fare was much, much smaller than the cost of the fine," writes C.N. Of course, it also took much longer to reach her destination than it would have if the driver had waited for the light to change.
"What's the right thing to do?" asks C.N. "Should I have given him money to help defray the cost of the fine?"
When C.N. arrived at her destination and the driver told her the fare, he didn't ask for money to cover the fine. However, C.N. decided to give him half the cost of the fine. She's still wondering if this was the right thing to do.
C.N. might have acted out of kindness by giving the cabbie the extra money. She sensed that he was only trying to help her, and in the process incurred the fine. But it was the cabbie who chose to violate the law, not C.N. She didn't cajole him to get her where she wanted to go swiftly at any cost. Even if she'd done so, the driver would have been wrong to run the light. The end result could have been far more serious than a fine if the cab had been hit by another driver.
The right thing would have been for the cab driver to obey the traffic signal. Given that he was fined, he was right not to ask the passenger to help cover the cost. Paying a fine is not akin to paying a toll, for example, which the driver would have been expected to cover.
Once C.N. arrived at her destination, the right thing would have been to pay the fare only. If she wanted to show kindness, she could have added an appropriate gratuity. (The custom for tipping taxi drivers in Dubai seems to be to round up to the next full Euro amount if the ride was good. Given that the driver in question violated the law, C.N. would have had to determine if she received a "good" ride.) But she was under no obligation -- nor should she have felt compelled -- to split the cost of the fine.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.