March 15, 2006

Local Taxi Services Overcharge Customers

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Are local taxis taking their passengers for the proverbial ride? A Sun investigation found several drivers overcharging – once by almost seven dollars.

The Ithaca Common Council has also begun moving to reel in unruly rates after regular complaints about service and pricing.

Over the course of 10 rides in Zone 5, Sun reporters were overcharged five times. Zone 5 covers most of North, West and Central campuses as well as Collegetown Bagels.

However, sometimes students catch a break: on three of the trips, reporters were undercharged. Only twice was the correct fare requested by the driver.

The average amount of overcharging was $1.86.

Many drivers seemed simply to not understand the current rate system. One driver explained an excessive fee by saying that it was subject to two late charges: one for being after 8 p.m. and another for being after 2 a.m. Only the first late fee is in effect under the current code, according to the City Clerk’s office.

Taxi fares are set by the Council, and current rates are set to expire at the end of the month. Fares will drop about 25 cents starting in April.

Council member David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward) said the council rejected extending the current prices until more information was gathered on drivers overcharging customers.

Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) said that improved service must come before a price increase that the taxi companies seek.

“I constantly hear complaints about mistreatment of customers, by the company and by drivers,” he said. “The majority of the people who use taxis cannot afford to be overcharged.”

Gelinas said that one of the things the Council needed to improve was the communication of complaints.

“People that have complaints don’t know the pathway to file those complaints,” he said.

Gelinas said that the biggest problem was with taxi rates outside of the city, especially on trips to the airport.

Townsend agreed, pointing out that taxis regularly pick up multiple parties without getting the consent of current passengers, a violation of City of Ithaca code.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

Townsend also encouraged those who encountered problems to e-mail him at gtownsend@cityofithaca.org.

“We don’t know how bad this [overpricing] is currently,” he said.

Those who encounter problems are also encouraged to contact the City of Ithaca Police with complaints or concerns.

Ithaca Dispatch owns the vast majority of taxis, which bear the brands of University Taxi, Yellow Cab and Cayuga Taxi. A dispatcher said the company operated 20 licensed taxis in Ithaca, far more than other companies. Finger Lakes Taxi, Inc., for example, owns only 4 taxis, according to one of their dispatchers.

“This is a service that is definitely appreciated by a majority of the constituents I represent,” said Townsend. “I just want to do my job and make sure the people I represent aren’t exploited.”

Despite the inconsistent pricing, many students felt the cabs were still a bargain.

“They are not a bad deal if you in a group and want to get somewhere,” said Colyar Pridgen ’06.

Things to keep in mind while riding:

-You have the right to a fare sheet, which explains the zone system and extra fees.

-You have the right to decline your taxi picking up additional passengers or making extra stops.

-A late fee of 50 cents per passenger applies after 8 p.m. No other late fee is currently in effect.

-A fee of 50 cents per passenger is charged for additional passengers in your party.

Sun Staff Writers Ross Anderson, David Wittenberg, Steven Xian and Managing Editor Michael Morisy contributed to this story.

Archived article by Sun Staff