Taxi Officials Differ on the Etiquette of Upstreaming

By

In the eight season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David's ongoing quest to promote social order has come to New York City. Here, in his hometown, David has pushed back against everyday offenses like eavesdropping waiters and shoddily secured takeout food, to name a couple. But perhaps the most fraught issue he's tackled so far has been "upstreaming," the practice of hailing a cab by positioning oneself in front of another person who is also trying to hail a cab. This issue was explored in the opening scene of the August 29th episode "The Car Periscope":

Larry and the Upstreaming Woman represent two opposing views on the morality of upstreaming. While David warns that upstreaming leads to "anarchy," the Upstreaming Woman is less concerned about fairness than her own well-being — it's a tough city, and if you can't handle it, go live in Vermont.

According to New York's Urban Etiquette Handbook, published in June of 2006, "walking against the flow of traffic to gain a positional advantage is permissible under the 'it’s a jungle out there' ethos — but you must walk at least a block before putting your hand back up; otherwise, the other group is within its rights to chase you down, call you a jackass, and attempt to jump in the cab in front of you."

Curious to get a more official ruling on the proper etiquette of upstreaming, we reached out to David Yassky, the head of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Yassky told us that there are no official recommendations on the proper distance one should provide to preexisting cab-hailers. But he was willing to offer his personal philosophy on the matter. "Of course, different cultures regard personal space differently," he segued into his answer, which turned out to be something of a bombshell. "But I think you’ve got to give a good fifteen feet."

Yes, fifteen feet. After we suggested that this amount of space was practically nothing, Yassky sought a second opinion from Ashwini Chhabra, the TLC's Deputy Commissioner for Policy, who happened to be next to him at the time. Chhabra first proposed that a full block was appropriate, before quickly lowering that to half a block, or "far enough so that you can in good faith pretend that you don’t hear [the other cab hailer] yelling at you."

Clearly, consensus on the issue is hard to come by. This may just be one of those things — like how much to tip the delivery person or how long you have to wait before taking the newspaper that's been sitting downstairs — that we'll just never resolve.