Wednesday, January 2, 2008

LA taxi scams

The NBC affiliate in Los Angeles did an interesting story on taxi corruption, dated November 2007. It seems a lot of cabbies are overcharging, either by having an illegal shop tamper with their meters or by charging meter rates to LAX, when the law requires a $35 flat fee. Video here.

Among our cabbies I've only heard of a few minor problems. Sometimes our drivers will fill a car with younger people, usually drunk, who are going a short distance. Instead of using the meter, they'll say, "$3 each." That might give them $12 instead of $5. The regulations are clear: always use the meter and charge the exact amount shown. I deviate routinely, but only because I don't deal with coins. If the meter says $10.40, I tell the customer the fee is $10.00. Only if there's 80 cents, as in $14.80, will I round up and say, "It's $15.00." I'm not scamming anyone.

I wouldn't know how to tamper with a meter, and I have no desire to learn. If I ever want to make more money than driving a taxi in an honest manner, I'll probably go back to the real world and enslave myself take an office job.

Our meters are inspected annually by the County of San Diego (I think the Weights & Measures department, or somesuch), and then they're sealed with a metal wire and a lead seal, and then an adhesive label is put on the side of the meter, which, theoretically, would be destroyed if the meter is tampered with.

The meter inspections involve a county employee sitting in the passenger seat and asking us to drive a pre-planned route, usually about two miles. The guy has a stopwatch and monitors the meter closely. He makes a few marks on a clipboard. One inspector told me to avoid putting a cell phone close to the meter. When I asked why, he said, "It can affect its operation."

Another interesting thing is a sticker appearing in all of our cabs showing the air pressure and size of the rear tires at the time of the meter inspection. The cars are rear drive, and the meter must be tied to them, which would be affected by changing the size and pressure of the rear tires.

I've never heard of any cabbies around here messing with any of that stuff. The most common thing is to offer somebody less than the expected meter amount. Supposedly this is illegal, even though it reduces the cost for the customer. Drivers will do this if the person is undecided about taking the cab because it's too expensive. Customers routinely offer a low, flat rate to save money, too. Some drivers accept the reduced amount, but only on a slow day.

1 comment:

Coldfoot said...

I got in a cab once (as a driver) after someone had been messing with the meter, and had left it in "set" mode. It was late in the evening and no one was around who knew how to get it out of set mode, and back to the right rate.

It took me a while, but I finally got it set to the right rate. Now when there is a problem with the meter someone suggests asking me how to fix it.

Trouble is, I have absolutely no idea how I got the meter back to the correct rate.

I still can't figure it out.