Crackdown on Taxis Who Rebuff Riders

Complaints about taxi drivers refusing to take passengers where they want to go are on the rise, and city officials announced a plan Wednesday to raise fines for drivers who break the law and rebuff riders.

Mayor Bloomberg released video of undercover stings showing drivers denying passengers asking to go to Brooklyn and Queens. Taxis often try to decline rides to the outer boroughs, but the law requires them to go where they are asked. And they aren't allowed to claim they don't know the way.

"We are a city of five boroughs -- and it doesn't matter which borough you are coming from or which borough you are going to -- if you want to hail a cab, drivers are required by law to take you to any destination in the city," Bloomberg said.

In the sting operation video released Wednesday, the undercover Taxi & Limousine Commission officer asks a driver to take him to Richmond Hill in Queens. After a discussion about how to get there, the driver says "No, no. No, take somebody else."

Another video shows a driver saying he doesn't have a map or GPS and cannot get to Third Avenue in Brooklyn. He then drives off as the undercover officer is left standing on the curb.

The city said the number of service refusals reported to the TLC between July 2010 and February 2011 was 2,887, up from 2,128 for the same period a year earlier. That's an increase of 36 percent.

A taxi driver was accused this week of vehicular assault and other charges after he allegedly refused to take his passengers to the Bronx, and after they exited his cab, he ran them down, causing serious injuries.

City Council members and the mayor announced legislation Wednesday that raises fines for refusals. The fine now is $200 to $350 for a first offense, and $350 to $500 for a second offense within two years, plus a possible 30-day suspension. The third offense within three years carries a mandatory license revocation.

The new fee structure would be $500 for a first offense and $750 and a 30-day suspension for a second offense within two years. Punishment for a third offense would remain the same.

"I've had it with drivers who think they can choose which laws to obey and which not to obey," said Councilman James Vacca. "Raising fines for refusing service sends a clear message that the era of picking and choosing where to take passengers must come to an end."

A group that advocates for taxi drivers said that it does not endorse ride refusals but said they are a reality of a slow economy. Drivers might refuse outer-borough fares, especially at rush hour, because those rides can end up costing the driver money instead of turning a profit, the group said.

"If they've gone up, it's an economic indicator -- more competition and a decline in income," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. "None of this is to say we believe refusals are a solution for drivers or that they should be normalized. We understand the public has a right to be served, but taxi drivers also have a right to earn a decent living."

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