As Uber and Lyft battle to disrupt the next generation of moving New Yorkers around in cars, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has slapped a giant fine on a dubious practitioner of the current method — a fine that just might “scare the pants off” Symon Garber, the medallion impressario whose penchant for taking his trousers off has previously landed him in hot water with the authorities.
Working with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the AG’s office has hit Yellow Cab SLS Jet Management Corp with a whopping $1.6 million fine. Jet Management, one of the largest medallion owners in the city with 275 in total, charged almost 2,000 drivers using its yellow cabs “late fees.”
“Late” charges of any kind are not in line with TLC standards nor New York State regulations, but these were not really late fees in any normal sense of the word. Jet Management charged drivers for late payment if they did not pre-pay for their shift; however, prepayment is not allowed by the TLC. This caught drivers in a bind. So when they paid for their cars at the end of their shifts, the drivers were assessed fees for paying the prepayments “late.” The company also claimed these were actually additional charges for leasing a hybrid vehicle, and while they were not, those charges are also not within TLC regulations.
According to the TLC, “Lease cap rules, among the few workplace protections for drivers, limit the dollar amount drivers may be charged for leasing medallions and taxicabs, in order to ensure a baseline level of take-home earnings for drivers. The rules also strictly limit add-on charges that can be imposed upon drivers and limit the purposes for which charges may be assessed. Overcharges by owners or agents chisel away at drivers’ limited income.”
$1,387,500 of the fine will head back to the pockets of ripped-off city cab drivers, $150,000 will be paid towards compliance monitoring, and $125,000 will be paid to the Attorney General.
“Every worker in New York deserves an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and taxicab drivers are no exception,” said Attorney General Schneiderman in a statement, “With most cabbies already struggling to make ends meet, our agreement will put money back in their pockets and prevent this company from cheating drivers out of their hard-earned wages. Working with Commissioner Joshi and the TLC, we will continue to vigorously enforce lease cap rules and ensure that all taxi companies follow the law and respect drivers’ rights.”
The shady medallion manager behind Jet Management Corp, Mr. Garber — he goes by Simon when socializing and Symon when getting arrested — has been in trouble with the law a number of times. In 2008, his taxi company’s Chicago branch was found to be repurposing salvaged vehicles as taxis. About 100 of his Chicago taxis were marked salvage, junk, or rebuilt.
In 2005, Mr. Garber had even more peculiar car trouble. According to the Asbury Park Press, “Colts Neck Township resident Symon Garber, 39, was charged April 13 with filing a false police report after the car he was driving was in a motor-vehicle accident and he reported the car as stolen.” He was charged with filing a false police report. In 2007, he was caught driving while intoxicated and in possession of marijuana.
The strangest charge of all came on February 5th, 2008. Mr. Garber was arrested on Shady Tree Lane in Colts Neck, New Jersey after he stripped down to his underpants, hosed himself off in a neighbor’s yard, then strolled into the neighbor’s home and took a shower. The homeowners and their two young children panicked and escaped the scene to call authorities. He was charged with burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing.
In recent years, Mr. Garber, who emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine and is married with 5 children, has cultivated a more clean-cut image. He now sponsors a polo team and hosts regular polo events, which raise money for charity. Three of his sons play for the polo team. While he may be cleaning up his personal life, Mr. Garber’s business practices don’t seem to have changed at all.
Mr. Garber did not respond to multiple efforts by Betabeat to reach him via phone and email. If he gets back to us, this story will be updated to include his remarks.
According to the AG’s press release, a single medallion costs more than $1 million in New York City so “most taxicab drivers do not own the medallions associated with the taxis that they drive. Instead, drivers lease medallions, and often vehicles as well, from owners and leasing agents. New York taxicab drivers are generally not employees and are therefore usually not covered by minimum wage, overtime, or many other labor laws.”
While a fine approaching $2 million might seem like a lot, the Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, thinks Mr. Garber got off easy. “A driver who overcharges by $10 loses their license and faces prosecution for multiple offenses, [so] the SLS Jet owners should be relieved for not facing criminal charges. We thank the leadership of AG Schneiderman and the Labor Bureau and TLC Chair Joshi and her prosecutors for staying the course and sending the message that drivers’ economic rights will be protected.”
In this age of Uber and Lyft, it’s comforting to know that the regulators still play a meaningful watchdog role. And when you’re impatiently waiting for a cab and someone tells you to “keep your pants on,” at least one medallion owner ought to take that advice more literally.