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How to Avoid Getting Cheated in a NYC Taxi

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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.

Think you're getting gouged? Look at the "rate" number in the lower right of the taxi meter. It should read '1' if you're within the NY city limits.

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.

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  1. Hooray for Layne! Give her a nice tip all you cab riders out there in the wicked east.

  2. It is sad when people try to pull a fast one but that is life and that goes for any and all organizations or trades. The good thing about this report is ….more people will know how to spot if they are being charged properly. I do believe the news media(especially newspapers like the post and the daily)are over blowing the whole thing. Can we get the stats on how many customers cheat the driver???

    • Brainy – There are many sides to a story – you’re right. I don’t know how we’d ever collect the stats on passengers cheating drivers – though it would certainly be interesting.

      What I wonder is how many of those 36,000 drivers who’ve overcharged passengers have done so intentionally.

      For example, I had major problem with my meter when I was dropping off a passenger at JFK 2 weeks ago – I only charged him the flat rate ($45), despite the fact that my meter was registering a price of $75 (I had to go back to the garage and have them help me figure out what I was doing wrong). I didn’t actually overcharge my passenger (but the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s GPS might report otherwise). How many other cases of honest mistakes like this are being recorded as overcharges?

  3. Hey,

    Wanted to leave an experience that happened to me on Bad Friday (Good Friday, except a bunch of my friends and I go to the Churrascaria Plataforma and eat as much meat as we can, haha). This is happened to me before and is why I love NYC.

    I had told the guy to go to 49th and 9th from my place on 23rd and 6th. As he’s crusing up 6th, I notice he passed 49th and is about to take 51st. I think to myself, “Hmm, 49th must be really crowded. Oh well, I’m running late and avoiding traffic would help.” The cabbie then turns to me and goes, “Sorry, I’ll turn the meter off, I forgot you said 49th”. I laugh and tell him not to worry about it, that I make mistakes at my job as well. He kept apologizing and I left him a good tip anyways (about 30% on a credit card).

    If he hadn’t said anything or if he went surly if I had pointed it out to him, I would’ve paid with a credit card and no tip. I have no patience for you if you’re going to act rude when you mess up. However, if you’re apologetic and nice, then I’ll play nice too =)

    • Hey, Salem! This is great. Thanks for sharing this and for being patient with your driver. It’s really cool that you gave the cabbie a good tip in spite of his mistake – rewarding him for being honest. Your understanding of the situation was as satisfying to him as the tip, I bet. Way to play nice.

      • You should really thank my mother. Trust me, it always worse to mess up and lie about it in our house rather than tell the truth. Sometimes, if you were really worried and afraid and you still told the truth, my parents wouldn’t even get mad, haha.

  4. Thanks! Going to NYC tomorrow and I always wondered how to make sure the rate was right! So helpful :)