This March, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission announced that more than 35,000 cab drivers, about three-quarters of New York City’s licensed taxi drivers, may have been involved in a scam to defraud passengers by charging them an out-of-town rate for in-town service.
The TLC’s accusation stemmed from a customer complaint about an overcharge, prompting the TLC to analyze electronic data automatically collected from every trip.
Yellow cabbies strongly objected to these claims, saying that the TLC should not have made the statement unless they had the facts to back it up and that taxi meter technology was actually to blame. According to drivers, it is very easy to push the wrong button on meters, which are often close together.
Drivers flip the ‘Rate Four’ button on their taxi meters to charge passengers a special rate for trips outside of the five boroughs. This rate is double what riders pay for trips in New York City. The ‘Rate Four’ button is located next to the ‘Receipt’ button on many meters. Accidentally pushing the ‘Rate Four’ button at the end of a trip would give the appearance that a driver was trying to charge an out-of-town rate, but actually result in no overcharge to the passenger. Drivers stressed that the majority of them were honest and hard working New Yorkers.
The issue emphasized a divide that had been growing for years between the TLC and drivers. Cabbies claim that a growing list of rules created and enforced by the TLC, combined with a set of non-city imposed job challenges that include daily lease rates, rising gas prices, long hours and no health coverage, are making a job that once provided them a steady income and a sense of freedom pretty unpleasant.
In response to the TLC’s announcement and the cab drivers’ reactions, the WNYC newsroom arranged a forum for them at our The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space. We called it, "Out From Behind the Wheel," since most people only engage in conversation with taxi drivers while they are being driven through the city. David Yassky, New York City’s new Taxi and Limousine Commissioner, attended and listened to the drivers’ concerns. Drivers made impassioned suggestions on how to improve the industry and discussed their lives.
Download the "Out From Behind the Wheel" podcast to listen to the forum.
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