It's highway robbery.
Thousands of cab drivers have overcharged passengers for more than $8 million dollars in the past 26 months, the Taxi and Limousine Commission said Friday.
The offending hacks gouged the riding public by switching their meters to the out-of-town rate -- which is double the standard New York City fare -- even when they were in the confines of the five boroughs.
That's 80 cents per fifth of a mile versus 40 cents.
The city has about 48,300 licensed cabbies, and data shows that 35,558 have illegally charged a rider at least once, the city said. A smaller group of drivers is responsible for the majority of overcharged trips -- 3,000 cabbies were found to have doubled the meter rate more than 100 times. Passengers were overcharged a total of $8,330,155, or an average of $4.45 per trip, the TLC said.
Passengers were fuming.
"It's really horrible," said Cindy Scott, hopping in a cab at Grand Central so she could take her kids to Chelsea Piers. "It's really taking advantage of people, and it's believing the worst."
Julie Fields from Poughkeepsie says she's wondered about that skyrocketing meter in the past, but never really questioned the fare. "- watch that it goes up," says Fields. "But I don't do the math. I should."
Taxi driver Onno Tolud said he has always been honest. But he worries about public backlash. "If one guy does anything wrong," says Tolud, "it goes for all of us."
The Commission used GPS technology to discover that more than 1.8 million trips were overbilled.
“Thanks to the new taxicab technology, the TLC was able to initiate a review of GPS data, which has revealed evidence of a considerable number of taxicab drivers having improperly applied a suburban rate code to fares in place of the correct city code," said TLC spokesman Allan J. Fromberg.
"When used properly, the code effectively doubles the metered fare from the city limit to destinations in several nearby counties."
The matter has been referred to the Department of Investigation for possible criminal action, and the drivers will also face TLC-imposed administrative penalties -- include license revocation and monetary fines, Fromberg said.
"Some of these people could face serious charges," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "Now, how we would ever recoup the money and get it back to the individual payers, no, but we can stop the practice and we can make sure there's penalties."
A taxi driver advocacy group cautioned that the scam appears so widespread that it might actually be the fault of problems with the technology, not deliberately dishonest drivers.
"There should be a thorough investigation before judgment is cast on an entire work force," said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
In a few weeks, taxi riders will see an alert on the television screen in the back seat when the higher rate code has been activated.