QUESTION 94: RETURNING AIRPORT LUGGAGE CARTS
By Rabbi Yisroel Belsky
There are airports that provide self-service carts to help
the passengers out with their luggage. You have to pay $2 to
use it, and then get 25 cents back when you return it. If I
found a loose cart that someone had not returned, can I use
the cart without paying? If so, after I finish using it,
would I be obligated to return it, or can I leave it loose
just as I found it? And if I do return it, can I keep the 25
I don't see why you can't take the loose cart without paying.
It's true that there's a charge for using a cart, but once
one person paid the fee and got the cart, there are no
restrictions saying he can't give it to someone else. There
isn't a sign anywhere that suggests that this is a
non-transferable sale. A person could clearly use the cart
again and again until he takes care of all his needs, or his
friend's needs, or even the needs of a whole bunch of people.
But the company that owns the cart knows that it is generally
not used over and over, and that eventually it will be
returned by a person who will get the 25 cents.
In any case, people do use carts that are lying around. I
haven't seen any case where the owners of these carts show
any objection to someone using a loose cart. I think it's
common practice. If they did object to this practice, there
would be a sign or indication posted. It seems that this falls
within the norm. Perhaps it's a middas chassidus (higher level
of piety) to not use a loose cart, and pay for it, since
technically speaking, one is supposed to pay the $2 in order
to use a cart.
As I said before, the use of the cart is not limited to just
one person. So just as the person before you used the cart and
left it for someone else, you could do the same as well.
Is there an aspect of hashovas havedah (returning a lost item)
by returning a cart? There are people at the airport who's job
is to round up the carts. They go to the parking lot and gather
the carts together, and you sometimes see them pushing long
trains of carts. It's not as if the company would never get
the carts pack if people don't return them. The company
eventually gets all of their carts back. People don't take
With regards to keeping the quarter for returning someone
else's cart, I think you can. I know that if you find an empty
soda bottle, everyone agrees that the finder is entitled to
collect the deposit, even though he did not originally pay
for the bottle. It may be the same concept over here. It
could be that the quarter serves the same purpose as the bottle
deposit recycling charge. The company just wants the object to
be returned. I believe that if you see a cart lying around,
you could return it and collect the 25 cents.
Isn't it considered stealing, even a tiny bit, if you don't
return it? The owner invested money in these carts and is
trying to run a business. If you don't return the cart,
it's as if you're encouraging the next person not to pay the
$2. If everyone does that, the owner would lose a lot of money.
I agree with you that, ideally, the person who originally paid
the $2 should return the cart. Still, we have to clarify the
circumstances that we are talking about. Under usual circumstances,
when the cart is taken from where the suitcases come off the
plane, the passengers wheel them with their luggage into the
parking lot, which in some cases can be several blocks away. I
don't believe that it happens very often that people, excluding
airport workers, actually wheel the cart back to the airport
building. I'm sure there are those who return the carts, and
it's a noble thing to do, but it's really not the thing that's
Under these circumstances, the place to which they have to
return the cart could be quite a distance from the parking
lot. Returning the cart would set them back 10 or 15 minutes.
In the meantime, there's a regular crew of workers who go
around picking up all the carts. As far as the cart owner is
concerned, it makes very little difference if this person is
going to return the cart. If the cart owner has a worker
walking around picking up 30 or 40 carts in the parking lots,
that worker doesn't have much more work to do to pick up one
I really don't think loose carts represent a problem for the
industry, or a loss of money for companies in the business.
Nevertheless, I think that if it's not too much of an inconvenience,
a person should try to return the cart. After all, even with
all the heterim (permissible rulings), a person should try to
attain a higher level of hashova (returning an object). Finding
an aveidoh (lost object) in the streets or in the parking lot
may constitute hashovas aveidoh (mitzvah of returning a lost
item). Even so, in this case you're not mechuyav (required)
to return it.
I'll tell you the truth. In all my years, I've never used a
cart to bring luggage to my car and not returned it after I
finished. Except for a few isolated incidents when I was so
behind schedule, I believe I've always returned it. I feel
it's sort of a breach of trust if you don't return it, no
matter what teirutz (excuse) you can give otherwise.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 95: TRACKING DOWN AN UN-CASHED CHECK
I once bought an item from a store and paid by check.
The check was never cashed, and the company never contacted
me for the money. Am I obligated to contact the company to
pay for the item? If the company passed the check to another
party, am I obligated to track it down?
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yisroel Belsky Shlita and Torah.org.
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