At the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Church Street in Brooklyn, cars with out-of-state plates slow down and beep their horns as they pass, often pulling to the curb and picking up as many as four passengers.
They are known on the street at “dollar cabs,” and they operate illegally in neighborhoods throughout the city. Officials say they are putting their passengers at risk, and hurting licensed operators.
Some residents say they’re cheap and convenient, saving their skin when the bus runs late. Others say it’s not worth the risk.
“I think they’re very dangerous,” said one resident, Paula Torres.
Over several weeks, I-Team producers went undercover for days in Flatbush Brooklyn, New York City’s Wild West hot spot for unlicensed dollar cabs.
We saw unlicensed cabs picking up passengers anywhere, anytime, doing whatever it took to pack their cars with passengers. We saw them doing illegal U turns, cutting off other vehicles and driving in the wrong lane. We even caught the aftermath of a crash that sent two people to the hospital – one a pregnant woman.
Under New York law, only licensed yellow and green cabs are allowed to pick passengers curbside. Taxi and Limousine Commission licensed car services can respond to calls and online pickup requests, but thy must have a poster chip decal and the letters T and LC under the plate number.
The NYC Taxi & Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi said the dangers of dollar cabs are many. So far this year the city has issued 19,800 summonses for illegal operation of vehicles and seized 6,650 cabs and vans, a TLC spokesman said.
“You don’t know who’s driving that vehicle,” she said. “They’re not vetted by us, there’s no criminal background check, there’s no drug testing.”
She said they also don’t have the appropriate insurance. If there’s a crash, passengers are unlikely to be compensated.
Earlier this month, licensed commuter van owners and drivers testified at City Hall, asking for more enforcement. They say dollar cabs steal revenue from their legitimate businesses, and give them a bad name when things go wrong.
“Let’s say things happens, like an accident, some of them will run off,” said Winston Williams, who owns a licensed commuter van. “And it hits the media, it’s a dollar van.”