Taxi & Limousine Tribunal

I posted yesterday about the beautiful Report-a-Taxi app, which New Yorkers can use to report taxi drivers who fail to follow the rules… I actually got some results back from using the app a few months ago, and thought I’d share my tale.

I succeeded at reporting three drivers for refusing to drive me from Manhattan home to Queens, and got ’em hauled in front of a judge to face a fine.

It all started on December 30th, when we were getting ready to have a few friends over for New Year’s Eve. As readers from Charlotte are no doubt already imagining, there was bound to be an entire case of wine involved.

Since Trader Joe’s is no longer a five minute car ride away from home (one thing I miss dearly about Charlotte!) it’s a bit of a hike to get Three Buck Chuck and other inexpensive (but tasty!) wine. So I trained in to Manhattan to go to Trader Joe’s Wine Shop (an entirely separate store! I SWOONED the first time there) and filled a case with assorted tasties, then tried to hail a cab home.

This is what Heaven must be like!

Now, I know taxi drivers don’t like taking fares all the way from lower Manhattan to Queens (or Brooklyn, or the Bronx, etc.) because it takes a lot of time and they miss the opportunity to knock out a couple of quick fares (where the base fare before mileage can add up quicker.) But at the end of the day, it’s the law, and I surely didn’t want to try to take an entire case of wine with me on the subway.

Besides, when I take a cab between home and Manhattan, I always tip well.

One after another, taxis heard where I wanted to go and refused to take the fare. I was angry and frustrated, but fortunately I had a secret weapon: the Report-a-Taxi app on my iPhone. I whipped out my phone and self-righteously reported them, one after another. And then I got letters in the mail telling me that all three complaints warranted a hearing, which was scheduled for a few months away.

A day or two before the hearing, a representative from the Taxi & Limousine Tribunal will call you to prep you for the hearing, reviewing your testimony in advance and telling you what to expect. In my case I had chosen a telephone hearing, and I’m glad that I did. On the day of the hearing, I got a call almost thirty minutes after my “window” of time, saying the judge would be calling me shortly… Over an hour later, the same rep called back to give me an update.

One driver had a clean driving record, free of complaints, so the court offered him a settlement of a $100 fine and let him leave without a hearing. That $100 fine, by the way, surely cost him quite a bit more than any quick revenue he would’ve lost taking me home, even if I didn’t tip well. Which I would’ve (and did, for the driver who eventually took me!)

Another of the three lawyered up as soon as he got the summons, so his hearing was postponed by over a month. Apparently (according to the Taxi & Limousine Tribunal rep who explained all this to me) the driver had a really bad record, with lots of complaints, so his “settlement” fine would’ve been gigantic. High enough, apparently, to make hiring a lawyer potentially cost effective.

And the third was supposed to have a hearing last week, but arrived and was offered an astronomical settlement fine, so he literally lawyered up at the last possible moment. His lawyer appeared at the summons and explained to the judge that she’s been retained three minutes prior, so she obviously needed more time to prepare with her client.

Yes, that last part was quoted on the paperwork that the court sent me.

I'm pretty sure the hearing looked absolutely nothing like this.

All in all, it’s an intriguing system. Frankly I don’t care how big the fine is, as I’m genuinely not trying to punish anyone. (My initial outrage has cooled a bit.) What I’d like is for taxi drivers to get a clear message that it’s not okay to refuse passengers who are trying to get home to Queens. That’s the job, and people depend on them to do it.

The inconvenience of having to show up at the courthouse for a hearing would hopefully be enough of a time-and-income killer as to get the point across. The small fine that the first guy accepted was probably just enough to impress upon him the importance of following the rules, and I’m okay with that.

But the two guys who had to hire a lawyer to try to avoid a sky-high fine? Obviously their records show that they haven’t gotten the message yet, despite previous infractions and fines. So for those two, I guess I’m okay with the judge throwing the book at them.

I just wanted to get home with my wine, damn it.

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