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Cabbies Caught Price Gouging Amid Sandy Mayhem

NEW YORK CITY — With the subway system slowly returning and city streets clogged with cars, many commuters say cabs are taking advantage of the transportation crisis by gouging travelers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Taxi & Limousine Commission had recieved at least 43 complaints since start of the storm Monday ranging from gripes over fares to overcharging. 

Eleven of the complaints stemmed from issues related to fares or tips, while nine specifically cited price gouging, TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said. The agency also received two complaints against livery car services regarding overcharges.

"That said, I don't believe this necessarily fully reflects the number of incidences that have taken place, but that's something that will hopefully become more clear as time goes by," Fromberg said. "Needless to say, we have been and will continue to encourage people to let us know if they believe they've been overcharged."

Meanwhile many more consumers have complained of issues regarding overcharging, or of cases when cabs have refused to service patrons seeking to travel outside of Manhattan. 

On Wednesday evening, one Brooklyn resident who was headed to his Brooklyn home after work said he waited for a cab at the intersection of 25th Street and Seventh Avenue for over two hours because cabs refused to take him.

“I’ve been here for two hours, but they won’t go to Brooklyn. They just say no,” said Carlos, a Brooklyn resident who did not want to share his last name.

The cab drivers who eventually stopped, rolled down their windows, asked him where he was headed, and then drove away as soon as the word Brooklyn rolled off his tongue, said Carlos.

At the same intersection, more than ten yellow cabs stopped, but refused to give rides to anyone headed to Brooklyn, citing heavy traffic on the Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bridges as reasons for refusing them.

In another instance, a livery cab driver told a rider a ride from 25th Street and Seventh Avenue to Bushwick would cost $180. He said the bridges are “crazy right now” and that there was no way he would make the trip for anything less than $130.

Susanne Jell, the daughter of Munich mayor Christian Ude, who was visiting the city from Germany and staying in Park Slope, described her experience of trying to get a cab to Brooklyn from Manhattan as “a major disaster.”

“No one wanted to take me from 35th Street and Seventh Avenue to Park Slope,” said Jell.

Jell said she attempted to hail a cab back to Brooklyn at around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

“I loved staying in New York on Prospect Place near Sixth Avenue in the Slope, but yesterday made me cry in frustration and rage.”

Jell said she resorted to taking a livery cab service, and was charged $45 even though the cab dropped her off much earlier than her destination. The driver told Jell that traffic was too heavy on Flatbush Avenue and he didn’t know his way around, she said.

One Boerum Hill resident said she eventually gave up trying to convince cabs to take her and her husband back to Brooklyn on Wednesday evening, and instead, took a cab to City Hall and walked the Brooklyn Bridge to get home.

“Luckily my husband thought to ask to go to City Hall,” said Marilyn Donahue-Schiller, a resident of Boerum Hill. “If we had kept trying to get to Brooklyn, it might have been more frustrating.”

Even Manhattan residents seeking a cab ride within the borough have had to wait up to an half hour before a cab finally stops for them, some residents said.

"It took us at least 30 minutes before a cab would stop," said Mary Coggeo, a 35-year-old resident of Manhattan who was headed to a Halloween party on the Upper East Side with her three children on Wednesday night. "I saw that some of them were empty, but they wouldn't stop. When we finally got a cab, it took us an hour and half to get halfway there, so we didn't make it to the party."

To add to the frustration, some city residents said there were too many cabs with off-duty lights.

Peter Shatzkin, a 61-year-old resident of the West Village, said he had to walk to West 4th Street from 42nd Street because buses were too slow, and all the cabs he saw had turned on their off-duty lights.

“How can it be that all the cabs are off-duty?” Shatzkin asked, exasperated. “I think they’re getting ready to price gouge their customers.”

TLC defines price gouging as any incident when a cab driver charges more than the price initially agreed upon between the driver and the passenger at the beginning of the ride, Fromberg said. Those who believe they have been a victim of price gouging should report all incidents to TLC by calling 311. 

“We’ll investigate every instance that is reported to us and we’ll take very strong actions” if the incidents are substantiated," Fromberg said.