by R. Daniel Mann
Question: What is the Halacha in the following scenario? I am on an intercity bus, in which the price depends on how far you go. I fall asleep and miss my stop. Should I go to the driver to pay for the additional distance I will end up going?
Answer: Since you present this as a theoretical question (although it can happen) and, certainly it will not be adjudicated, we can discuss this and begin with the fundamental level.
In general, there are three halachic constructs by which to obligate someone to pay another who provided a service for him. One is by means of agreement. On a bus, one who gets on a bus agrees to pay according to the set price list of the company. Usually, one pays already before the bus moves, so the question is settled. In a taxi, for example, where one pays at the end, they implicitly agree (unless they begin negotiations) that the amount to pay is what the meter will show at the destination. However, in this case, you agreed to pay only for the closer, planned location, as you indicated when telling the driver where you were going, paying the lower fare, and receiving a receipt for that trip.
The second issue is that of damage. Consider the following true story I heard. Someone entered a taxi in Jerusalem, asked to go to Petach Tikvah, and fell asleep. He was woken in the city of Petach Tikvah and told the driver he meant Petach Tikvah Street (in Romema, Jerusalem). The passenger cannot argue that he only agreed to a short ride because he irresponsibly (by not saying “Street” and by falling asleep) made the driver waste work time and gas driving to a distant location. (Whether there should be any discount is beyond our scope, as is the question as to what factors (e.g., extenuating circumstances) determine when there is an obligation to pay in such a case of semi-direct “damage” – see P’sak Din 73082 of Eretz Hemdah-Gazit.) This element also does not apply here because the driver and the company presumably lose nothing by the passenger staying on somewhat longer.
Another reason to obligate someone is the benefit he received from the service, even if he never agreed to pay for it (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat 264:4). In this case, it would seem that you would not normally benefit from going farther when you wanted to go to somewhere else closer. Therefore, this would not be grounds for payment either. It would be different if when you woke up after missing your stop and realized that getting off a few stops later would be better than getting off at the very next stop. Then, the additional stop(s) would be considered benefit, under the circumstances that developed, and there would be reason to pay.
Practically, one would have to consider other factors. It is very possible that staying on longer than you told the driver could be a problem of chillul Hashem or “Vehiyitem nekiyim” (not causing people to suspect you of sin – see an example in Rambam, Shekalim 2:10). This can happen either if an inspector comes on or if the driver happens to remember where you said you were getting off and where you actually did. It is also possible that the bus company has a set, perhaps even written, policy for cases of staying on accidentally longer than expected. While it sounds random, it makes sense for the company to have a policy so that people not be able to lie and claim that it was accidental. Anyone who gets on a bus accepts the legal policies of the bus company. This is different from a simple agreement between two people, where neither has an advantage over the other. A company prepares a service with rules (sometimes approved by a government agency); the passenger decides to use the bus – on their terms. On the other hand, the driver might inform you that he believes you and it is not necessary to pay. He probably has authority to forgive (mechila) a small payment of this sort.
In summary, on fundamental grounds, you would not be obligated to pay based on any of the constructs for payment for services. Any obligation would be based on more technical grounds.