Thursday, January 16, 2014

11 taxi drivers overcharged fares in police bust

City law sets $5 flate rate (plus surcharges) for on-peninsula cab rides

Posted by Paul Bowers on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Charleston police investigated cab drivers last year and cited 11 drivers for overcharging fares on the peninsula.

Under a city ordinance passed in March 2011, all taxi drivers are required to charge a flat $5 rate for any trip within the Charleston peninsula. Drivers are allowed to tack on a $1 surcharge per passenger beyond the first passenger, plus a gas surcharge ranging from 50 cents (when the gas price is $3/gallon) to $3.50 (when gas is $6.50/gallon). Different fare rules apply for taxi rides off of the peninsula and can be found in City Ordinance 31-196.

In April 2013, a plainclothes cop from the Charleston Police Department took two taxi rides on the Charleston peninsula and reported that both drivers overcharged him. Later, on Dec. 16, an officer took seven rides and was overcharged by four drivers. On Dec. 31, an officer took eight rides and was overcharged by five drivers.

In each case, according to a statement from the police department, the officer entered the cab and told the driver where he or she wanted to go, but did not inquire about the rate. The officer asked about the rate upon arriving at the destination, issued a citation if the driver overcharged, and paid the driver the proper fare.

The flat rate for peninsula fares is controversial among some taxi drivers, including a few who planned a one-night strike against the policy in April 2013. While some drivers said the rule made it hard to turn a profit on longer rides across the peninsula, others — including Jim Jones, president of Charleston Cab Company — said they supported the $5 rate. “The rule is $5, and we are going to honor that,” Jones said at the time. “If they’re striking, they’re striking for the right to gouge people.”

In addition to the 11 overcharging citations, which cost the cab drivers $133 apiece, two drivers were issued $92 citations for driving without a chauffeur's license. The names and cab companies of the drivers were not immediately available.

Police spokesman Charles Francis says that if you suspect a driver of overcharging on a fare, it's best to call police to the scene before payment is made. "The peninsula-to-peninsula trips are easier to figure out if a violation has occurred but trips that require meter usage make determinations a little more difficult," Francis says. "Regardless, [taxi riders] should call when it happens because working back on these becomes extremely difficult to prove."

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