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Officials: NYC taxi scam smaller than we thought

Fewer New York City taxi drivers overcharged their passengers than previously believed, according to officials, who said yesterday they had learned that in most trips the higher-fare button was not activated until the ride had ended.

The head of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission told the City Council during a budget hearing that, upon closer examination of data, "a fairly significant number" of the 1.8 million trips thought to be overcharged did not appear to be.

"It may have simply been a mistake by the driver," said TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus.

The TLC said earlier this month that it had stumbled upon what appeared to be one of the largest taxi scams ever, in which 35,558 drivers had apparently overcharged passengers within city limits by using a higher rate code designated for trips to the suburbs. The average rider was overcharged $4 to $5, the city said.

The city said the finding came after an examination of global positioning data from devices in taxis, which found the higher rate code was activated in 1.8 million trips within city limits over the past two years. The code is activated by the push of a button.

On one of the three models of meters used by New York City taxis, the button to activate the higher rate code is next to the button the driver pushes to end the trip. Daus said it appears that in many of the trips, the button was pressed at the end, when the taxi was already stopped. Officials said they believe many drivers were likely reaching for the "end trip" button next to the one that activates the higher rate code.

Officials could not immediately say how many of the trips were appropriately charged.

Daus said the city still believes some drivers purposely charged the higher rate and that an investigation is continuing.

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