Taken For A Ride!
By Gary G. Toms
The next time you consider calling a cab during a major snowstorm, you may want to investigate the rate charges. Last week, The Wave received a call from a distraught Broad Channel resident who claimed that a local car service, the Cross Bay Car Service, was charging fees ranging from $40, $50, and $60 to take people over the Cross Bay Bridge and into Rockaway during the December 24 snowstorm.
"I was one of many commuters on the A-train when the power went out," said the Broad Channel woman, who asked that we not disclose her name.
"Everybody had to get off the train at Broad Channel. We were there for hours, and some people got frustrated and decided to take a cab into Rockaway. I was shocked when the people started discussing the prices they had to pay to be taken into Rockaway. When they inquired about the enormous rates, the dispatcher told them he had to charge them a "snow price," since his drivers were working under hazardous conditions.
The woman told The Wave that there was one incident in particular that really upset her and many of the other passengers.
"There was this one young woman with a baby, and the baby couldn’t have been more than 3 months old. They were stranded in the train station, and it was freezing cold. She had very little money, and the cab company would not cut her a break," the woman stated.
"A total stranger came forward and told the young woman that he would pay the $60 to have the cab take her and the baby home. I can’t believe they were so heartless. God bless that man, wherever he is."
The Wave called the Cross Bay Car Service to obtain commentary on the questionable rates, and we spoke with a man who identified himself only as "Tim."
"Listen, there were no trains or buses running, and we had very few cars on the road. What are we supposed to do?" he said.
"Even the buses wouldn’t go out in that weather. It was Christmas Eve, so we charged time and a half to take people into Rockaway."
"Tim" also took the opportunity to express his displeasure with the fact that people were calling The Wave to complain about being charged so much.
"You know something? There were people kissing the ground that we were open that night," he continued.
"I’m so sick of these people bitching, when my drivers were risking life and limb by being out there. I don’t have a problem with the charges. I don’t see anything wrong."
As part of our investigation, The Wave contacted several Rockaway cab companies to obtain information regarding "snow prices." While some were reluctant to comment, a representative from the "4’s" car service (327-4444) was more than willing to provide us with information.
"I’m going to tell you right now, and this is a fact! There is no such thing as a snow price," said Sam Rotella, a 25-year resident of the Rockaways who has worked as a dispatcher for the last 11 years at the "4’s."
"I know for a fact that there are companies that jack up their fees during major snowstorms, and tack on a so-called snow price. That’s how we get a number of our customers. They call us and tell us what other cab services are charging them, and we let them know that they shouldn’t be charged that much," said Rotella.
The burly dispatcher told The Wave that he was breaking his silence because "enough was enough."
"Look, I’ve been in this community for 25 years. There are so many people that I know and grew up with here in Rockaway. I care about this community, and I can’t stand by and watch them get ripped off. So, I’m telling it like it is. I really don’t give a damn what the other car services think."
Rotella directed The Wave to a local merchant that was the victim of the bogus charge. The merchant, who did not want to be identified, told The Wave that he was charged $10 to go from Mott Avenue into Bayswater during last week’s Christmas Eve storm.
"I was shocked when the driver said ten dollars. I said, ‘You’re charging me $10 to go eight or nine blocks?’ The driver then claimed that it was because of the weather conditions."
The merchant claims that he called The New Beginning Car Service (which sent the cab) the next day, and told the manager what happened.
"I don’t know why he did that. I will speak to him and find out what happened," said the manager.
A Wave reporter went to The New Beginning Car Service to speak with the management about the situation, but no one was available for comment. The reporter left contact information with a dispatcher, but they still had not contacted The Wave by press time.
A representative of the "7’s" (327-7777) car service also provided information regarding fare rates.
""There is no such thing as a snow price. I have never heard of such a thing, but I’m sure there are companies that say that to milk customers," he said.
"With that said, I admit that I tell my customers that if they want to tip my drivers for being out in the bad weather, then go ahead and do so. I never tell them that they are going to pay $40 or $50 for being driven through a snowstorm."
The Wave placed calls to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, and Deputy Commissioner Allan Fromberg expressed major interest in our investigation.
"There is no such thing as a snow price charge. Livery cabs operate on a pre-arrangement basis, unlike the New York City taxis, which are standardized," Fromberg stated.
"In other words, livery cabs are competitive. John’s Car Service can charge $3 and Bob’s Car Service can charge $4. Who you chose to go with is up to you. New York City taxis have a standard meter rate."
Fromberg noted that while livery companies having different charges, it did not give them the right to inflate those charges.
"The livery companies MUST file their rates with us annually, and if they don’t, there could be severe consequences. We do not condone price gouging in any way. In light of the information you have provided us with, we intend to investigate this matter and respond to these allegations."
Within 24-hours, Fromberg phoned The Wave and indicated that Matthew Daus, Commissioner for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission wanted to speak to us directly. Daus then relayed the following information.
"There is an active investigation in process involving the New Beginning Car Service and Cross Bay Car Service for not filing rate charges with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission recently. We are taking this matter very seriously, especially on light of these recent complaints. If any illegal activity has taken place, the companies may be subject to fines, suspensions, or license revocations."
Daus also informed The Wave that if anyone wants to check on the rates or status of a particular car service, they could call (212) NYC-TAXI. Information can also be obtained at their website: www.nyc.gov/taxi.