In the last 26 months, city taxi drivers have illegally flipped a switch on their meters to charge a higher out-of-town rate on rides within the five boroughs 1.8 million times, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which believes that riders were overcharged $8.3 million dollars.
The current investigation of fare gouging sprang from an earlier investigation of a single driver. After a passenger complained about the rapid rise of the fare on the meter in Wasim Khalid Cheema’s cab on a trip between Manhattan and Woodside, the TLC reviewed GPS records and fare data and found that Cheema overcharged his passengers $40,000 between February and July last year. In-city rates are 40 cents for a fifth of a mile, while trips outside the city cost 80 cents.
Cheema, who lost his license in February, asked a Daily News reporter covering the story “why would my name be out there if others are doing it too?” (I’m guessing he’s not too popular with his former co-workers just now).
All the same, it looks as if he was right. The larger investigation found that of 48,300 taxi license holders, 35,558 have flipped the meters to the higher fare at least once, and 3,000 of them did it upwards of 100 times.
The TLC has asked the meter companies to retrofit them to notify passengers when the fare is raised, possibly using the video screens in the cabs. Going forward, they’re looking at having the GPS system control the fare and eliminate the button altogether.
The Department of Investigation has taken over the probe, and drivers, including Cheema, could face charges.