Good Cab, Bad Cab: The New York taxi scam and how to avoid it

My girlfriend got scammed by a taxi in New York City.

Sanaya and I went to New York City for a work vacation (she worked, I vacationed), and we were on our last day and planning our departure. We were on different flights, since I decided last minute to go to the big apple, and even more last minute decided not to take a 9-hour bus ride.

The whole trip we’d been using Uber to get around, since our generation has come to rely on the app instead of using taxis. Uber had worked perfectly, with the AC blasting to save us from the heat wave and some interesting conversations about global warming and religion with drivers. On our departure day, however, we were in a rush to get Sanaya to Newark Liberty Airport and there was a taxi RIGHT outside! We decided she would take it and get to the airport on time. That’s where we meet:

The Bad Cab

The cab ride started off bad. There was no AC in the taxi, and only a tiny fan blowing equally hot air back into Sanaya’s face. She doesn’t remember the cab driver’s name, so we’re just going to call him Adrian. I knew an Adrian back in elementary school, and he was like super mean.

Adrian then asks if Sanaya would like to go with the flat far to Newark or the regular meter, with the implication that the flat fare was better. She went with the flat fare, just as I would have, which he punched in at $103 for the trip. He doesn’t mention that there’s extra fees for going through toll booths and other things, so the total ended up being $125 in the end. He then asks to swipe the card on his phone through a point of sale app, She swiped her card, and although already suspicious she went on her merry way, only to get an email from the app saying the final bill was $158.68. After she’d left, he took the liberty of adding a tip for himself and then signed on her behalf.

How much should the cab far have actually cost? That answer comes from:

The Good Cab

I was leaving a few hours later, and I had been juggling between taking an Uber or a cab. I knew that taxis in New York City have a flat rate to JFK airport, so I wasn’t worried about being taken advantage of. Also the Uber fares would spike and dip, with the lowest being $70 and the highest being $118, and that was within 5 minutes of each other. It was so volatile and terrifying that I think I got a feel for what stockbrokers go through on a daily basis. I decided for the sake of my heart, I’d take a cab.

I go to the first cab I see outside our hotel, but the driver says that the doorman already flagged him for different passengers, and just as that happens another cab stops and ushers me over. I get in and say hello to my drive Ahmed.

taxi cab new york city

I won’t pretend that I knew about the JFK flat rate like some seasoned world traveller. It’s literally written on the side of every cab (see airplane on back door).

I get in and ask Ahmed about the flat fare to JFK, and he gladly punches it in as Fare 2 ($52) and explains the whole thing to me.

“I’ll tell you right now that there is only a flat fare to JFK, and that is New York City law. If anyone tells you something different, they are scamming you! I am a religious man, so I will never scam anybody.”

This peaked my interest, especially after hearing about Sanaya’s suspicious experience. I ask what the flat rate to Newark would be, since my girlfriend had gone earlier that day and had been charged a flat rate.

“There’s no such thing as a flat rate to Newark, she got scammed. How much did it cost her?”

So I tell him.

“WHAT?!?” That ride is maximum $80 in the worst traffic. No way it should cost more than $85. I am so angry that she got scammed. There are over 10,000 of us cab drivers in the city, and there is maybe 0.5% of them that try to scam them. They are the ones that give us such a bad name.”

We continue chatting for the next hour to the airport about a lot of things, but the scam was the main topic of conversation. He gave me the tips and tricks to avoid this happening in the future.

Avoiding scams 101:

  1. Don’t ask how much it costs to go somewhere, instead tell the driver where you want to go. As soon as you ask how much it costs, it gives a potential scam driver the chance to offer you a higher “flat rate” which is illegal.
  2. FLATE RATES DON’T EXIST OUTSIDE OF THE JFK FLAT RATE. If you go anywhere else it will be a meter rate. If you want to go home to Montreal, you can take the meter rate and pay $5,000 no problem.
  3. Every cab is supposed to run their payment through the meter, and a receipt is going to print out of the side of the meter. Anything else is illegal.
  4. There are only two rates you really need to know about; RATE 1 and RATE 2. Rate 1 is when you are using the meter normally, and rate 2 is the flat fare of $52.00 to get to the airport.
  5. Get a receipt from the meter, which you are entitled to have. That gives you all the information you need if something isn’t right, especially the medallion number (the number for the cab) and the driver’s cab license number.

    taxi-receipts-combined.jpg

    The medallion number is the number of the cab, and the driver number is, well…the driver number. Also note the REGULAR FARE and RATE 1. Rate 1 is using the meter normally, whereas if it were going to JFK airport it would say JFK FARE and RATE 2.

  6. Be weary of doormen. According to Ahmed, a lot of cab drivers get approached by doormen from hotels and suggest to them to overcharge the next passengers and don’t process it through the meter, and in exchange they’ll split the fare. He said he’d been approached several times to do just that, but as a religious man he refused to scam people. If you’re leaving a hotel and need a cab, walk around the corner and hail one yourself. They’re literally everywhere!

At the end of the day, the scam really shook Sanaya. She felt taken advantage of because she was either a tourist, a woman or both. But thanks to Ahmed, he restored my faith in taxi cabs and their drivers by helping us get ahead of the scammers and know how to prepare ourselves. I believe him when he says it’s such a tiny percentage of them that are giving the rest a bad name. Once you have the information to protect yourself, it becomes very difficult to be scammed.

Or you could just Uber it.

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