Sunday, March 14, 2010

NYC Cabbies Cheat? Who Knew?

I was shocked - shocked - to hear the other day that New York City taxi drivers stand accused by none other than Gotham's Taxi and Limousine Commission of cheating passengers out of $8.3 million over a 26-month period by overcharging their customers.

New York cabbies cheat? Who knew?

Actually, everyone knew; it's just now there are some numbers to go with this widely disseminated knowledge. Spokespeople for the drivers were quoted in media reports saying there are problems with technology: their meters, specifically, just seem to be on the blink. Moreover, they said, a few bad apples are spoiling the reputation of taxi drivers in the Big Apple.

Excuse me - a few? According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, 35,558 of New York's estimated 48,000 cabbies overcharged customers during the 26 months in question. That's three out of four drivers.

The most common scam, according to the commission - which sets rates for taxi fares and licenses cab drivers in the five boroughs of New York - was by charging a higher out-of-city rate for carrying passengers who were actually inside the city. The out-of-city rate - for taking riders to suburban Westchester County, say - happens to be twice the in-city rate.

Everyone who visits New York will have trouble with taxi drivers sooner or later. Me, I encountered a cabbie at John F. Kennedy International Airport last year who told me once he had pulled away from the airport taxi stand to take me to my Manhattan hotel, that his credit card reader was broken. It is illegal to operate a Yellow Cab in New York without a working credit card reader; I made him take me back to the airport and he, grumbling, complied.

The same thing happened again on a later visit last year. This time, I was heading from Manhattan out to JFK airport. Silly me; I forgot to ask about the state of the credit card reader before I got in the cab. Upon arrival, I had to dig deep for cash, in lieu of running to an ATM inside the terminal while trying to make a flight. I wasn't overcharged, but I was still scammed; this way, the cabbie doesn't have to pay a credit card fee, and I was left short of cash.

So, it's established that many, if not most, New York taxi drivers cheat. Even New Yorkers quoted in news accounts seem resigned to this. Now, what? Who is going to protect travelers and other passengers? How, and when?

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