Cabbies get paid to take passengers for a ride, but more than 600 have been taking liberties with that job description. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates the cab industry, more than 21,000 passengers were charged out-of-city fares even though they never strayed beyond Gotham’s well-defined boundaries. That’s not good-for the ripped-off passengers or for the city itself. Thousands of New Yorkers depend on the dollars of tourists and business travelers. We want them to come back as often as possible, and they won’t if they think every driver behind the wheel of a yellow cab is a con artist.
The TLC is taking these charges seriously. The agency announced that they will seek to revoke the hack licenses of some 633 drivers who were caught overcharging passengers by an average of $5 per trip. Some of the drivers were particularly greedy: According to the TLC, 88 cabbies overcharged passengers 500 times each. They did so by flipping a switch that calculated the higher fare that cabbies can charge when they travel into the hinterlands of New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island. The more egregious offenders may be subject to criminal investigations.
Cabbies are, in their own way, ambassadors of New York City. They’re often the first point of contact for visitors who land in J.F.K. and LaGuardia airports-which, let’s remember, are safely within the city’s boundaries. If they can’t be trusted, visitors may be wary of the rest of us (which, in some cases, may actually be prudent).
But it’s also important to point out that not every cabbie has been implicated-far from it-and that most of us don’t find their job enviable. They work tough hours, don’t make a lot of money and, as the New York Post revealed in a recent investigation, can become victims themselves. The Post reported that some hotel employees demand cash kickbacks from drivers in exchange for giving them passengers bound for one of the area’s airports or other high-fare destinations.
It sounds as though the taxi industry needs some TLC. The agency’s commissioner, former councilman David Yassky, promises action. Government regulators have been known to make a mess of things, but in this case, oversight clearly is needed, and welcome.