Hundreds of New York City cab drivers accused of repeatedly overcharging passengers will face a special tribunal.
The city's Taxi and Limousine Commission on Friday issued the results of a monthlong probe into data revealing elevated meter-based charges over the past two years. The agency said 88 drivers each overcharged clients at least 500 times, while 545 more did so 50 to 499 times.
Some could lose their licenses, while others with up to 49 overcharges face fines of as much as $5,000.
TLC Commissioner David Yassky told The Associated Press that in the future, it'll be almost impossible for passengers to be cheated as often as in the past. He said an alert system will go off on a taxi's back-seat monitor signaling the driver has switched to a fare rate that computes a trip beyond city boundaries -- a common method of overcharging.
A passenger can then report the problem by dialing 311, which provides quick access to non-emergency municipal services.
If the TLC agrees that there was a transgression, the passenger may seek a reimbursement by filing a claim; the driver is responsible for covering the extra amount.
The average overcharge has been about $5, the commissioner said. "The meter shows everything, so it's hard to make a mistake,'' said Bablu Chowdhury, who's been driving a New York yellow cab for 16 years. "Most drivers don't want to cheat because they need the job.''
However, he added, "if a driver is new and changes cars that have different models of meters he's not used to, it can happen.'' Chowdhury and several other cabbies who declined to reveal their names, said they don't object to their meters being monitored.
Almost 22,000 medallion cab drivers, out of about 50,000 total, charged higher rates 286,000 times, costing passengers about $1.1 million, according to the TLC survey.
But the commission acknowledges that some drivers could have made honest mistakes operating their meters. Yassky said those who overcharged once or twice will not be punished.
The TLC has referred its findings to the city's Department of Investigation and the Manhattan district attorney's office.
Agency spokesman Allan Fromberg said the city will begin proceedings against the accused drivers in the coming weeks. He emphasized that each has the right to due process before a TLC- independent tribunal linked to the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
The commission will make its case and, in turn, a driver can bring his or her own evidence and witnesses, and has the right to be represented by an attorney.