I was in a taxi and all of a sudden the police closed the road because someone reported a suspicious suitcase. Since we were on a one-way street we were stuck. Since it usually takes a minimum of fifteen minutes for the police to determine that the suspicious object is not dangerous and we were just two minutes from my house, I figured I would be far better off if I just left the taxi and walked the remainder of the way. When I informed the taxi driver of my decision to leave he became very angry since that meant that he would be idle until the road was reopened. However, I didn’t think I had to pay, so I simply put the money on my seat and left. Do I owe the taxi driver anything?
The first issue that requires clarification is the nature of your relationship with the taxi driver. The Terumas Hadeshen (1, 318) was asked by someone who hired a worker to transport his beams on the worker’s own horse from the river to the city. The worker overcharged and the issue was whether the worker was required to return the overcharge. In that case it made a difference if the porter was simply an employee or he was both an employee and also one who rented his horse to his employer. The Terumas Hadeshen ruled that he was both and his ruling is cited by the Ramo (CM 227, 33) without dispute. He explains that we consider how much the customer would have had to pay for a porter who did not own a horse and for one who did. The difference is the cost for renting the horse and the rest is the worker’s salary. There are others (Machane Efraim, Gezeilo 11) who disagree and maintain that the entire payment of the employer is salary and there was no rental of the horse.
Thus, when you originally informed the taxi driver of your destination you effectively hired him and, depending on this dispute, perhaps also rented his taxi in order to transport you to your destination.
The second issue is how to view the temporary closure of the road. Since the taxi driver could not move his vehicle we view him as being temporarily sidelined. It is the equivalent of a worker who became ill. Even though the worker is not at fault for being sick or not being able to move his taxi, nevertheless, if there would not be a custom to pay for sick days, under pure Torah law (CM 333, 5) he would not be entitled to be paid for the period when he did not perform any work. However, since idle time is included in the determination of the taxi fare, one has to pay even when the taxi is stuck.
Since we established previously that when you entered the taxi and informed the driver of your destination you hired the taxi driver to transport you to your destination, effectively what you did when you left the taxi was to fire your employee before he completed his job in order to avoid having to pay him for the time he was idle, and in order to arrive home faster.
Thus, your question boils down to be whether you were justified in firing the taxi driver and, according to the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen, ending the rental of his taxi prematurely. If you were justified in firing your employee and ending the rental then you do not owe him anything. But if your firing was not legally justified, you would be required (See CM 333, 2) to pay him an amount that is close to the amount he would have earned if he had completed the job even though he did not actually do the job. (The amount would be reduced because the worker now had free time because he was fired, a concept that is called sechar beteilo.)
The Ohr Someach (Mechiro 17, 9) proves that a renter may generally cancel his rental agreement on the grounds that it constitutes a mekach to’us (an agreement that was based on an error), even if he is only unable to use the rental temporarily. The reason it constitutes a mekach to’us is because when one rents for a short period of time, even temporary inability to make use of the rental is very significant. This is especially true when one hires a taxi. The entire purpose one takes a taxi is in order to arrive at his destination quickly. Therefore, if continuing the taxi ride will slow down the passenger he is justified in ending the employment agreement. Therefore, even if the driver would have agreed to turn off the meter until he could continue driving you may depart and save the amount you would have spent had there not been a road closure. You must nonetheless pay for the ride up until then.
We should note that our application of the concept of mekach to’us to enable one to end an agreement prior to its culmination, but not nullifying the entire agreement as is the case in an invalid sale, even though it is somewhat unusual, is fully justified. We can prove this from the ruling of the Maharam Padua (res 39), which is cited by the Ramo (CM 321, 1). The Ramo opposes the Maharam’s ruling in his situation but he does not contest this aspect of the Maharam’s ruling. The Maharam ruled that renters of stores with licenses to lend with interest could discontinue their rental in the middle of the rental period if the rental was no longer profitable due to unforeseen developments that occurred in the middle of the rental period, on the grounds that application of the original rental agreement to the balance of the contract constituted a mekach to’us.
Based on their comments concerning the ruling of the Maharam Padua, the Chasam Sofer (CM 161) and all the others who side with the Maharam agree that your behavior was justified and even the Nesivos (321, 1) would agree that you could end your agreement when the road closed and leave the taxi.
Since the reason you were justified in terminating your stay in the taxi is that your original agreement to continue the ride until your home is a mekach to’us, the dispute between the Terumas Hadeshen and the Machane Efraim whether you were paying also for renting the taxi is irrelevant because both a rental agreement and an employment agreement may be nullified in a case of mekach to’us. Therefore, be it what it may, your departure was justified and you do not owe any further money to the taxi driver. We should note that R. Nissim Karelitz is also cited (Kol Hatorah vol. 52) as having ruled that the passenger may leave.
We should note further that since the basis of our ruling is that concerning the continuation of your trip the original agreement constitutes a mekach to’us, if the road closure is not totally unforeseen the passenger could not end their original agreement prior to reaching his original destination since a blemish that is expected does not cause a mekach to’us.
Thus, a passenger would not be able to leave a taxi that is taking him to the Kosel if the taxi gets stuck in the Old City on the way down to the Kosel since the occurrence is not infrequent. Even if the passenger originally told the driver that he wishes to go to the “vicinity” of the Kosel he would not be justified in leaving the taxi in a place where the taxi will be stuck if that is not a normal stopping place for taxis. These were the rulings of Rav Shlomo Amar (Shoma Shlomo (7, CM 4) as well.