A sting operation — with college kids posing as taxi riders — has landed hundreds of cabbies in hot water for allegedly refusing rides, the Daily News has learned.
More than 360 yellow cab drivers face $500 fines for refusing to take the young recruits to neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and northern Manhattan, Taxi and Limousine Commission data show. The TLC enlisted college students to hail cabs because officials suspected drivers learned to spot commission enforcement agents and alerted colleagues to be on their best behavior.
Since September, the students have hailed 1,330 cabs and were refused 361 rides, or 27% of the time. Similar undercover enforcement by TLC agents indicated drivers were breaking the go-anywhere rule just 4% of the time, authorities said.
“Our rules are crystal clear: a taxi passenger is entitled to go to any of the five boroughs,” TLC Chairman David Yassky said. “Our enforcement initiative is designed to make sure drivers understand that there will be a penalty for refusing service. ”
Biju Mathew, of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, called the refusal rate ridiculously high and said the enforcement effort — relying on lightly trained college kids — was fatally flawed.
While refusal rates to the Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx ranged between 15% and 63% during different time periods, cabbies never turned down trips to northern Manhattan in the morning and evening. There’s no logical explanation for that, Mathew said.
Wai Yu, John Jay College senior who works as a secret rider for the TLC, estimated he’s been turned down 70 times since he started the part-time, $10-an-hour job. “They would say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and give me a lot of excuses,” Yu said.
Unlike TLC agents who had given cabbies tickets on the spot, Yu and his collegiate colleagues filed complaints after the alleged infractions. Cabbies were notified by mail.
An increase in rider complaints about trip refusals led the Bloomberg administration and City Council to increase penalties for drivers found guilty after hearings. The fine is $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second offense within two years. A third infraction triggers license revocation.
Some taxi riders welcomed the crackdown. “I think it’s good that they’re being fined — this is a big city with sometimes limited transportation options and lots of tourists,” Dale Traverso, 28, of Queens, said.
With Rebecca Baird-Remba