Within two weeks, taxi passengers will start getting alerts telling them whether they’re being ripped off.
As part of the city’s crackdown on rampant taxi overcharging, riders will see a backseat-screen message if their driver switches to the more expensive out-of-town fare, which is reserved for trips outside of the five boroughs.
The change comes after a Taxi and Limousine Commission probe found thousands of cabbies routinely ripped off unsuspecting customers to the tune of $8.3 million over 26 months, or about $4 to $5 more per trip.
The scheme was perpetrated by pressing the button for the higher rate, or Code No. 4, which is double the usual city fare of 40 cents for one-fifth of a mile.
Cab drivers on Sunday insisted the new policy won’t curb the problem because they insist it’s largely unintentional. It’s easy for a distracted driver to enter the wrong code because the meter buttons are close together, said driver Emmanuel Emeka, 51. More crucially, if the Code No. 4 is pressed by accident, it cannot be undone without stopping and turning off the meter, he said.
“These guys creating the rules, they don’t know what’s actually happening on the streets,” said Emeka, who has been driving a cab for 15 years.
Though the TLC probe found that 3,000 cabbies repeated the scheme more than 100 times, about 36,000 drivers — three-fourths of the city’s force — overcharged customers at least once. Such high numbers are proof the practice isn’t intentional, said cabbie Pierre Joseph, 46, of East Flatbush.
“If it’s 36,000, then I’m one too,” said Joseph, who has worked as a cabbie for 18 years. “But if I press it, even by mistake, it’s important that I make things right in the end and charge less.”
The TLC is looking to end the practice by automatically applying the out-of-town charge through GPS.
The TLC will impose fines and revoke the licenses of serious offenders and is working to provide refunds to those customers who paid by credit card; the city Department of Investigations is conducting a criminal investigation. The department could not say how long the investigation will take by press time.
Passengers Sunday urged vigilance. “Just pay attention to the fare. If you see something strange, say something about it,” advised Sarah Kowalski, 22, of midtown, who takes cabs several times a week.
Heather Haddon contributed to this story.
Know your taxi charges and fees:
* Check the rate code on the far right or left of the meter and make sure it reads “1,” not “4,” which is the higher out-of-town rate.
* Check your receipt before leaving the cab to make sure the rate was “1.”
* Extra surcharges include a 50-cent MTA tax per ride, a 50-cent evening charge for rides from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays, and a $1 peak fare fee from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.