They’re not as bad as mechanics or lawyers, but taxi drivers do have a bit of reputation for inflating their fares. But is this true or just an urban legend designed to keep Midwesterners out of Times Square?
Unfortunately, it appears to have a ring of truth to it. We’re not saying all taxi drivers are scamming. Far from it. But a recent story about New York cabbies overcharging their customers has set off a firestorm of buzz. The initial story broke last week, when it was revealed that thousands of cabbies in the Big Apple had overcharged their customers by a total of $8.3 million over several years.
The news sparked immediate Web searches on “new york cab ripoffs” and “taxi scams” as well as lookups for the Taxi and Limousine Commission. The Commission found that dishonest cab drivers were charging customers the “suburban rate,” which is twice the “city rate.” All told, 35,558 cab drivers “illegally charged a rider at least once.” That’s out of 48,300 licensed drivers. Not a very good percentage.
So, how was the scam discovered? It all started with one guy who was suspicious of his fare. Dr. Mitchell Lee, who often takes taxis home after working at the NYU Medical Center, says he noticed his normal $5 fare had mysteriously risen to $7 one night. He complained to the driver, who offered Lee a discount. Lee declined, paid the full fare with his credit card, then complained to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. From that one complaint, a gigantic scam was quickly unraveled.
Lee’s driver, Wasim Khalid Cheema, was deemed to be one of the worst offenders. He is “believed to have taken his passengers for about $40,000 in illicit fares.” Lee, who brushed off any discussion that he might be a hero for exposing the fraud, did comment that “New Yorkers are smarter than cabbies think,” and that “everyone is watching the meter” in these tough economic times.
Think you’ve been ripped off? You might be due for a refund, provided you paid by credit card. Unfortunately, only 20% of riders pay with plastic.
Taxi drivers are quick to point out that it’s not in their best interest to take passengers on the scenic route, because they earn a bonus for every new passenger they pick up. Still, it probably doesn’t hurt to print directions beforehand. Or take the subway instead.