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On Saturday, as I was interviewing a cab driver who ended up taking my co-adventurer and me to a great little Puerto Rican place in Spanish Harlem (more on our food quest later in the week), he asked me whether I’d seen the front page of The New York Post:
My stomach flipped as I skimmed the story. Not only have New York cabbies been overcharging passengers on an alarmingly regular basis, but “investigators determined that 36,000 drivers improperly activated higher rates at least once.”
Translation: three out of four New York cabbies have cheated their passengers at least one time by flipping a switch on the taxi meter that doubles the rate from 40 cents to 80 cents per 1/5 of a mile.
“This is really bad,” Lemie, our cabbie, said, “Now every time someone gets in my cab they’re going to think I’m trying to cheat them. It really hurts the guys that are honest.”
It really hurts the entire industry. New Yorkers already have a love-hate relationship with yellow cabs – and this is going to swing the pendulum squarely into the hate column.
What can cabbies do to restore the city’s faith in us? Besides knocking off the shenanigans with the meter, we can educate our passengers, which is what I tried to do yesterday when an elderly New Yorker got in my taxi on 3rd Avenue and asked me if I’d heard about the scam.
“Yes, I did,” I told him, “And I’m really upset. You know how you can make sure you’re not getting cheated? Look at the rate number on the meter.”
“If you’re anywhere in Manhattan or the boroughs, that number should always be ‘1’,” I said, pointing to the lower right-hand side of the meter, “The only time it should read ‘4’ [when the meter doubles from 40 cents to 80 cents per 1/5 of a mile] is if you’re in Nassau or Westchester County.”
If you’re in a New York cab and you suspect that the total on the meter is going up faster than it should, just look at that rate number, and you’ll have your answer.
When my passenger thanked me, I hoped he’d pass on the tip to his friends. And I hoped he’d realize that not all of the city’s cabbies are trying to take him for a ride.