Outer-Borough Fare Refusals Driven by Economics, Cabbies Say

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Complaints about taxi drivers refusing to take passengers to their desired destinations have increased by more than a third over the last year.  So the city is moving ahead with a plan to increase fines and penalties. Officials hope expensive tickets and the risk of suspended, or even a revoked license will stop drivers from saying "no" to customers.  Drivers say that while there are many reasons why they decline a trip--most agree, the overall problem is essentially a financial one.

"Refusals stick in the craw of a lot of New Yorkers," said Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky. "It may be a small issue in terms of dollars and cents compared to other things, but it's a big issue in terms of how it feels."

It's not as if drivers loathe going to the outer boroughs — most live there. But to be successful, drivers said they have to focus on volume and not distance. 

"I would prefer to stay in Manhattan and prefer to be picking up passengers one after the other because in Manhattan you get passengers very frequently," said Bashir Betker, who has driven a cab for six years and said he needs to make between 20 and 30 trips a day to profit.

Most cabbies who rent their taxis and medallions begin their shift in the hole — lease prices range from $105 and $129, with hybrids costing a bit more. There's also the 5 percent fee drivers pay for every credit card transaction. Gas is now over $4, and moving violations and parking tickets add to the cost of doing business.

Driver Seth Goldman, 26, said these concerns are always on the minds of cabbies.

"You're very focused," he said recently after completing his 12-hour shift. "You have economic pressures. When you hear 'Brooklyn' or 'Queens' in the morning rush hour, you think, 'Ugh, that ruining my day.'"

Driver Manjinder Singh (photo right) said outer-borough travel can be a losing proposition. It can take 40 or more minutes just to get across a bridge, he said, and he may return to Manhattan without a passenger.                                                                  

"Everybody comes to work to make money, not lose money," Singh said. "If the driver can lose money, I think its not worth, you know?"

There are times when Singh said he doesn't refuse a fare but suggests that customers might be better served by taking the train.

"We tell them do the mass transit because it much more convenient for you to where they want to go and it will save you money too," he said.

Singh added: "Sometimes they listen and sometimes they don't care. They say they want to go with you and that's it."

Another challenge to outer-borough travel is shift change, when drivers who lease or share their vehicles have to return them to garages or face late penalties.

For most day-drivers that deadline is usually between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Cabbies have the right to put their off-duty lights on and ask customers if they're going in the same direction.

Driver Bashir Betker said he gets stressed out about getting pulled far from his garage in Queens at least an hour before his shift finishes so he tries to stay in the vicinity of the Queensborough Bridge.

"I say that I can take you to East Side," he said, "anywhere on East Side — upper or lower — is ok with me."

Officials hope expensive tickets and the risk of suspension or license revocation will deter drivers from saying 'No' to customers seeking to travel to the outer boroughs.

But head of drivers group the Taxi Workers Alliance Bhariavi Desai, who said drivers infrequently refuse trips, noted that if the city wants to rectify the problem they shouldn't simply implement new punishments.

"We don't believe that the solution for the driver is refusal," Desai said, "but we also don't believe the solution is to scapegoat the drivers. The solution has to be an economic one because the problem is an economic one."

But TLC Commissioner Yassky, who said drivers assume risk like any other entrepreneur, said their compensation has already been addressed.

"As far as the economics go, it's built into the fare," Yassky said, "and I guess if that's another driver saying that they think the fare should be increase, I'm sure that drivers would like to see the taxi fare increased."

Drivers would indeed like to see the fare raised. Desai said they'll be requesting a 15-percent increase in surcharges and waiting time since their overall fares haven't been increased since 2004.

Her other suggestion is that drivers be given some of the perks of mass transit since taxis move more than 600,000 people each day.

"To begin with, we want to be exempt from turn restrictions that anywhere buses can turn we believe yellow cabs should also be able to turn," she said. "Removing the turn restrictions alone would make a big difference. ... Sometimes the reason the fare to the outer boroughs takes so long is the amount of time the driver takes exiting Manhattan itself."

Another proposal is to allow drivers to use HOV commuter (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes when they're returning from the outer boroughs and have an empty cab.

Driver Seth Goldman said just about any overture from the city would go a long way: "I would like to see them making our job a little easier instead of constantly harder give us a break like the bus driver occasionally."

But the city thinks the fix should be more stick than carrot. If legislation is approved, first-time fines could rise to $500 for cabbies that refuse passengers and third-time offenders could see their licenses revoked.

Information courtesy of the Taxi & Limousine Commission and New York Taxi Workers Alliance. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)


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Comments [11]

Negpa from Brooklyn

The only reason why I would refuse a fare is if I sense that someone is going to beat the fare. Taking someone to East New York is at least 45 minutes on a good day. Believe you me after two bad experiences one begins to screen certain passengers. Personally it has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. If I lose 90 minutes on a fare I still have to pay for the entire shift. It's easy to be self-righteous and pretend that drivers should blindly pick up anybody while others can be judicious in their jobs. I can't always identify a bum by sight but it hurts when I have to pay an out of borough fare for a fool. I never refused decent looking people unless I am at the end of the shift.

May. 04 2011 12:04 AM

Wow, if any cabbie had the balls to tell me that taking mass transit would be more convenient than taking a cab to my place in Brooklyn, he'd have a lot more to worry about than just a call to 311.

20 minute drive (at night) versus over an hour on the train and bus. Which do you think is more convenient?

Apr. 28 2011 03:04 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Another fundamental point. The mayor and the TLC, his flunky organization, regularly put out these PR hits on the taxi industry. The prior one was over the out-of-town rates that some corrupt cab drivers were using on in town fares. But all this info is and was fully available to the TLC, the city and the mayor. The out-of-town scam could have been stopped at any time. The info on every fare is transmitted to the TLC. They, including the mayor, had the knowledge and ability to stop the scam at any point but they didn't do their job. They did their job if it was one to denigrate cab drivers and use that denigration to keep cab drivers pay at the poverty level. The drivers are undeserving thieves, or so we're lead to believe.

That from a mayor that wanted to set up a heliport in the Battery so the wealthy could fly to local airports and bypass airport security. Think Bloomberg relates to you or cares about you? Think again. This is a publicity stunt.

The vast majority of cab drivers are honest. As honest as any other profession and far more honest than politicians. Ask yourself why the automatic pervasive surveillance of cab drivers isn't applied to bankers and stock brokers? We've had a recession dropped on millions and millions of Americans by people like Bloomberg. Their actions are never examined. They are always protected. We're told that the economy is going great except that Social Security and Medicare have to be cut drastically.


Apr. 27 2011 01:56 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

To Karen from Queens,

It doesn't make sense to refuse a fare to Astoria at 4AM. Maybe on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when the local Manhattan bar crowd could possibly generate a better take, but the trip back (empty of course - you always have to figure in the empty return time to the next fare) is fast. It's not a money loser so I don't know why cabbies refuse those fares.

Oh, and I've seen bartenders that refuse to serve people that don't tip enough. How would you like to get a $500 fine if you tried that?

To Hambone from Gowanus,

You haven't run into a cab that refuses a fare. I regularly have people come to my window to tell me where they're going. I don't even look at them when they do that. Get in. That's my job and living, such that it is. But cabs that refuse fares keep their doors locked. You can't get in without telling them where you want to go.

To AlexB from Astoria,

Think about a JFK fare. Flat rate - $45. That's a money loser anytime from 6:15AM to 9:30AM and 2:30PM to 9:00PM. The trip back is slow (more than an hour where it might take more than an hour to get there). Waiting is not an option, at least for me. Some drivers wait and boast about getting a fare back after an hour. That's two hours, with the ride back, for the $45, less the cost of gas (17 miles at 12mpg). JFK fares should vary with the time of day. Peak hours should be $75. Sorry but if that's too much, do what Paul Krugman claims is best. Take the LIRR to the Airtrain. The MTA is heavily subsided, including by me. Let them earn that money.

Robert from Manhattan,

You've got a point. There's a tremendous waste in driving in circles looking for a fare. Maybe someday there'll be a better system but I think people in Manhattan like to step outside and raise their arm and have a yellow cab race to them.

People, think about this. If mass transit in NYC were any good cabs couldn't survive. But it isn't. Not even close. When it rains, I'm on that N train at 3:30AM, though going the other way. On dry days I ride my bike. Regularly I get passengers that can't get to work because the train has stopped working. They can't afford a cab but they can't afford to lose their jobs even more. When they tell me their story I say, "God bless the MTA."

Yellow cabs are only a portion of the "for hire" cars on the streets of NYC. There are "black cabs" (the former radio cabs that a corrupt TLC head banned so he could favor a limousine fleet owner) and livery cabs. That's the level of failure that the MTA represents.

Apr. 27 2011 01:31 PM
AlexB from Astoria

This doesn't make sense. A cab driver might pick up more fares staying in Manhattan, but if it takes a long time to get to the outer boroughs, the meter is running the whole time, charging by time and by the mile. I can end up spending over $30 on a cab ride to Queens or Brooklyn no problem, and that's not even that far into these boroughs where it's maybe 20 minutes to get back to Manhattan. $30 is almost 3 times the average fare. I think going to the outer boroughs is probably less of a financial problem than cabbies think it is.

Most importantly, these are the rules. Cabbies know the rules, should obey them, and should factor in long distance trips when calculating how much they think they will make.

Apr. 27 2011 12:08 PM
Hambone from gowanus brooklyn

Who tells the cabbie where they are going first?

I get in, close the door and then tell them where I am going. I have never had a cabbie then tell me he is not willing to take me to Brooklyn.

Apr. 27 2011 10:33 AM
karen from queens

I have never been so angry and sad about human beings after continually being refused a ride to Astoria after tending bar all night. I'm willing to pay the $25-30 fare out of my tip money (my income) to avoid the drunk, creepy 4am crowd on the N train.

Sometimes I can tell in adnvace who is going to be a good tipper and who isn't. What if I just denied you service because you looked cheap? It's also a waste of my time, dignity, and not cost effective, but I would be fired.

Apr. 27 2011 09:42 AM
ROBERT from Manhattan

I think we should ban cabs. If people want to rent a car/ride/driver, call a car service. The streets of NYC would be so much better without cabs. I also agree w/ the cabbies, I wouldn't take a fare to an outer borough either, its not cost effective and its not fair to the drivers. Its the nature of the business. I think drivers should be able to pick and choose who they pick up. I wouldnt pick up a loser or a drunk either.

Apr. 27 2011 09:27 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

To get an idea of the bias and misrepresentation of this news item consider the line in the graphic that states -

"Average number of fares needed to turn a profit: 20-30"

Let's see. After the lease fee of $105 (day shift) and gas cost of $55, and other fees - , subway tax, 5% credit card charge and tips to get a car without waiting an hour, a driver usually "turns a profit" after taking in about $170. On 20 fares at about $10 per fare average (a little high estimate) that would mean a "profit" of $30 for working a 12 hour shift plus the extra hour of "shape-up" and 'cool-down' (wait on line to pay the subway worker's tax and get the credit card money). 30 fares? That's about a $300 take making for $130 for the 13 hours of work. Whoopeee!!!

On the door of a cab there's a listing of charges with various surcharges for evening and night fares. The initial charge is listed as $3.00. But if you look at the meter at the start of a fare you won't see $3.00 anywhere. You'll see $2.50 and a $0.50 surcharge, which gets tacked on at the end of the ride. That's the subway tax. The fee cab drivers must pay to subway workers to maintain their medical coverage and pensions. I know it's a billionaire mayor trying to get average workers to fight each other but I don't recall any transit worker objecting. Consider the regular need for subsidies for the MTA. That subway ride probably costs about $30. That real cost is never disclosed.

As for refusing fares. I don't, except at the end of my shift when I have to get back to the shop or face a late fine - required by the TLC but not given to the next driver. That's legal with certain "Off Duty" indicators. I never ask where the person is going. I only state that I have to go downtown or to Brooklyn - on the way to the shop.

I do ignore potential passengers in certain areas. To be specific - Delancey and Essex before 6AM. Why? I used to do that regularly but after I was ripped off a couple of times (for example, two guys walking out at the end of a fare to East New York and effectively daring me to try to get the fare) I no longer pick up passengers there. The last time I did a passenger thanked me profusely for taking him and wanted to pay in advance. I refused the money. He then told me that he wanted to share the ride with someone else on the corner, but that person told him, "You don't want to go with me. I don't pay."

That means the practice was standard. The risk of taking passengers there was too high. Remember, loss of a fare is only the minimum risk. Since it was so standard, where were the police in dealing with regular theft? Too busy working on ticketing cyclists.

In the two years I've been driving my gas costs have gone up $20 a day. Add to that the $15 per day (on 30 fares) that I now have to contribute to subway workers, that's an extra $35 a day I have to work for to "turn a profit." Take $35 a day out of your pay and see how you feel about further situations that lose you money.

Apr. 27 2011 08:57 AM
David Ezell from NYC

I have a simple solution--quit being a cab driver. Every job has a down side and one of the down sides of being a cabbie is driving to Queens or Staten Island from time to time. Boo hoo.... I'm weary of cab drivers and have seen them leave people, including me, standing in the cold or rain because they did not want to go where a passenger needed to go. I agree with the comment above--video tape them and call 311 while you are in the car...

Apr. 27 2011 07:49 AM

I'm sorry but all the money problems are avoidable. Pay the extra for a prius, you get 48 mpg per city, vs 15 in a crown vic. You'll make your 20 dollars extra back 3 times in gas. Stop getting parking tickets, that has of more to do with laziness. Finally, you really have to drive like a reckless jerk to get a moving violation in this city other then a cell phone ticket.

I live on 4th ave in the slope/gowanus. I constantly get refused rides late at night and I am a 10 minute drive from the east village. I am a large guy so I don't worry about taking the train. However, I would wonder how many people, particularly women have been assaulted after being forced to take a train home late at night by themselves because they couldn't find a cab that would take them.

The best trick for this is to have your video camera ready on your phone and simply let them know you are going to report them for refusing. They always take you where you want to go

Apr. 27 2011 12:51 AM

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