Cabbies to lose licenses in overcharging probe

May 15, 2010 7:01:24 PM PDT
Hundreds of New York cabbies are about to lose their licenses, their jobs and perhaps their freedom.

An investigation has revealed more than 20-thousand cabbies overcharged New York City passengers at least once. Six-hundred-thirty-three of them did it at least 50 times.

"In these cases, there were overcharges and those overcharges in some cases were duplicated over and over and over again by certain individuals," James Vacca, chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee.

The findings are the result of an eight week investigation by the Taxi & Limousine Commission investigation.

It found that New York City passengers were being charged fares for Westchester and Nassau Counties, which is double than what they'd normally pay.

Many taxi drivers are defending other cabbies, saying anybody can punch the wrong button at least once.

"When people pay a taxi cab fare they want to pay what they're supposed to pay and not a penny more," Vacca argued.

That's why a new alert system has been installed in all cabs to let passengers know if they're being charged for an in-town or out of town ride.

The alert system will go off on a taxi's back-seat monitor signaling the driver has switched to a fare rate that computes a trip beyond city boundaries - a common method of overcharging.

A passenger can then report the problem by dialing 311, which provides quick access to non-emergency municipal services.

If the TLC agrees that there was a transgression, the passenger may seek a reimbursement by filing a claim; the driver is responsible for covering the extra amount.

"The meter shows everything, so it's hard to make a mistake," said Bablu Chowdhury, who's been driving a New York yellow cab for 16 years. "Most drivers don't want to cheat because they need the job."

However, he added, "if a driver is new and changes cars that have different models of meters he's not used to, it can happen."

Chowdhury and several other cabbies who declined to reveal their names, said they don't object to their meters being monitored.

Almost 22,000 medallion cab drivers, out of about 50,000 total, charged higher rates 286,000 times, costing passengers about $1.1 million, according to the TLC survey.

But the commission acknowledges that some drivers could have made honest mistakes operating their meters. Yassky said those who overcharged once or twice will not be punished.

The TLC has referred its findings to the city's Department of Investigation and the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Agency spokesman Allan Fromberg said the city will begin proceedings against the accused drivers in the coming weeks. He emphasized that each has the right to due process before a TLC- independent tribunal linked to the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

The commission will make its case and, in turn, a driver can bring his or her own evidence and witnesses, and has the right to be represented by an attorney.