Sunday, November 28, 2010
Taxicab confessions - Drivers' 'school' for $cams
In a shocking taxicab confession, a hack accused of overcharging nearly 4,000 passengers testified before a city judge that crooked cabbies conduct informal crime summits in cab garages to exchange new and devious ways to rip off customers.
"I met a series of drivers who decided to rob the public," Joseph Kastner, 49, told the Taxi and Limousine Commission during a Sept. 30 administrative court hearing. "They were actually having meetings at my old garage."
At the cabby conferences, veteran drivers would lecture others how to steal thousands from unsuspecting city customers by using Rate 5 -- a flat-fee plan only supposed to be used for areas outside the city, Kastner said.
"Some of them were making $500 a day," Kastner testified during the hearing.
Some would even brag about charging tourists for heat, a source familiar with his case added.
Kastner was arrested Sept. 23 with 58 other drivers in the infamous taxi-overcharge scandal. Kastner allegedly cheated 3,925 unwitting passengers out of $7,756 -- sixth-most among the cabby cads.
At the hourlong hearing on his hack license, Kastner tried to turn whistleblower -- offering information that would "look very derogatory for the TLC." He said the scams were far more widespread than the city has reported.
But Kastner said his offer fell on deaf ears.
"I tried to tell them over and over again at the hearing," he said outside his Jersey City home last week. "They didn't listen to a word I said. They just don't want to hear it."
The scheming was constant, said Kastner, who has floated among several garages.
TLC officials dismissed Kastner's desperate dealing and said they couldn't pin down Kastner's main garage.
"There are 49,000 licensed cab drivers in New York City, and while there may be a few who try to beat the system, the overwhelming vast majority are honest, hardworking individuals," TLC Chairman David Yassky said.
Other cabbies and industry insiders, however, told The Post they don't doubt Kastner's claims, and described the following widespread cabby and livery-driver crimes:
* Hacks who tack on bridge and tunnel tolls by pressing the meter's "extra" button.
* Scheming cabbies who hack into their meters to increase the time period when the $1 peak-period surcharge is added.
* Airport scams where livery car drivers will steer travelers in the terminals into their cars and then charge way more than the flat fare of $45 from the airports to Manhattan. Sources said one shark charged a family of four $45 -- each.
How drivers have taken passengers for a ride:
* Charging for turning on the heat.
* Posing as a livery driver at airports and charging more than double the flat fee of $45 to Manhattan, or taking circuitous routes to destinations.
* Setting meters at Rate Code 5 (supposed to be used only for trips to Suffolk County, north of Westchester, and New Jersey) and charging whatever they want.
* Setting meters at Rate Code 4 (supposed to be used only for trips to Westchester and Nassau counties) and charging double the normal fare.
* Adding a bridge or tunnel toll charge for non-toll trips by pushing the “extra” button on the meter.
* Hacking into the meter to stretch the hours when the normal 4-to-8 p.m. $1 peak surcharge is in effect.