It’s 9 p.m., and your cabdriver’s on his cellphone. Do you know where your Taxi & Limousine commissioner is?
Less than two months ago, the TLC crowed about its drop-dead, no-loophole ban on drivers’ use of cellphones. Big penalties for violations! But half of the drivers I’ve had since then — and nearly all of them at night — were gabbing on phones as they drove.
So much for fear of a crackdown: One wore a headset the size of moose antlers.
Good riddance to former TLC boss Matthew Daus, who’s just been replaced by ex-City Councilman David Yassky. But will Yassky be any more effective in bringing order to a supposedly “regulated” industry?
On his way out, Daus actually gave fare-gouging, passenger-abusing and lawbreaking drivers reason to feel righteous.
In his final week on the job, he backed off the TLC’s loudly trumpeted finding of wholesale fare-gouging just a few days earlier, when he’d accused 35,558 drivers of ripping off riders. Oops, Daus “explained,” many (he wasn’t sure how many) were guilty only of accidentally pressing a wrong button on the meter.
Drivers demanded an apology — which Daus had invited when he mused, “How can you overcharge a person at the end of a ride when you don’t get money for it?”
Well, how could you have been in charge of the TLC for 14 years and be so clueless about what goes on inside a cab?
I can afford taxis but nearly always take subways and buses — which, for all their well-known problems, usually behave rationally, if not always predictably.
Not so cabs. My solar plexus tightens every time I’m forced to use one. Especially after dark, when erratically driving moon men are often behind the wheel. If they can intimidate a reasonably able-bodied male, what’s it like for women, the elderly and the frail?
Hey, you ask: Aren’t most cabbies law-abiding and courteous? Don’t they know the streets and love the work? Sure — and the Second Avenue subway was finished years ago.
Few drivers crash or take you from JFK Airport to Midtown by way of The Bronx. But safety risks and at least petty fare-cheating are common and chronic.
For every case that makes news — like Ameen Ahmed, who’s charged with reckless endangerment for taking terrified tourists on a hell ride through Queens — a slew of psychos merely simmer at the wheel, muttering racial slurs at other drivers and making me pray for the ride to end. (My “favorite” head case accused me, in a torrent of Arabic and almost English, of being a “follower of Osama bin Laden.”)
Most every man behind the wheel works by his own rules. (I’ve had just one woman driver in 12 months). After two years of supposed enforcement on mandatory credit-card machines, many a cabbie still tells me the unit’s broken before I get in.
Meters are supposedly tamperproof. But the fare on my occasional two-mile cab ride home varies from about $10 to $13 under identical conditions. Some nights the meter runs wild; other times, the driver ups the bill by hopping avenues and getting stuck at red lights, rather than simply going straight up one avenue.
Why don’t I report abusers to the commission? The TLC is too lazy and lame to put the fear of god into errant drivers and instead lays enforcement on the public. Sorry, after 10 hours in the office, I’m not doing the TLC’s job.
And how could I? In most cabs, the driver’s ID-plate is underlit and unreadable behind grimy plexiglass.
Lighting the driver’s name and hack number properly should be No-Brainer No. 1. You’d think the TLC’s $29.6 million budget would cover a memo requiring it. Instead, Daus’ zany reign brought us screechy TVs that are often impossible to turn off.
We’ll see whether Yassky has the guts to stand up to drivers — or is just as yellow as Daus.