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LIRR council targets taxi price gouging

Long Beach taxi companies. (March 2, 2012)

Long Beach taxi companies. (March 2, 2012) Credit: John Roca

The Long Island Rail Road's watchdog group is calling for stepped-up regulation of Nassau and Suffolk cab companies to address price gouging of train riders when the railroad is out of service.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said there were several incidents on June 11 when the Ronkonkoma line's service was suspended for hours after a train struck a vehicle in Central Islip.

Epstein said he saw taxis picking up stranded LIRR customers and charging them expensive fares for short trips.

"LIRR commuters seeking to get to the nearest station with service faced increased cab fares," he said. "They were left with a choice of paying fares set at the whim of taxi operators, negotiating with operators those increased fares, or being left stranded at their station."

The council called on lawmakers in Nassau and Suffolk to adopt a five-point plan to stop price gouging.

In addition to prohibiting taxis from raising fares during LIRR service disruptions, the plan would call on taxi companies to post the following inside their vehicles: fares and their explanations; a county phone number for passengers to call and report a driver; the driver's name and identification number; and a statement of riders' rights.

The council's call comes after the State Legislature this week passed a measure to allow Suffolk County to regulate taxi companies. In Suffolk, taxi operators are regulated by the towns and villages in which they operate. In Nassau, they are regulated by the Office of Consumer Affairs.

Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said he expects to introduce a bill in August that would create a regulating body for taxis in the county. He said he's looking forward to working with the council to implement some of its suggestions.

Brian Henry, operations manager for Hicksville-based Long Island Yellow Cab, said he opposes creating a regulating body that does little more than collect fees. But he says he's all for cracking down on unlicensed cabbies who take advantage of vulnerable LIRR riders.

"It's the vultures circling the carcass," Henry said.

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