Taxicab Deception | NBC Southern California

Taxicab Deception

Hidden camera investigation catches cheating cabs again



    It was the groundbreaking work of Joel Grover in 2006 that caught taxi drivers in the city of Los Angeles red-handed cheating customers. Now, Joel has uncovered something even bigger with cabs across the LA area.

    November 2007 - Since KNBC's first taxi investigation in 2006, the city of LA claims it's cleaned up its cab problem -- but sources tell KNBC, there are still a lot of crooked cabbies in the rest of Southern California.

    So KNBC went undercover once again.

    KNBC Cameras Capture Taxicabs

    KNBC hailed taxicabs in cities across the region and found evidence of several apparent scams.

    Rewind to May 2006, when KNBC's hidden cameras uncovered what authorities called a "criminal ring" that was rigging taximeters to charge illegally high rates. Because of KNBC's report, Los Angeles required its cabs to install tamperproof meters. But cabs in other cities in the area still don't have them.

    Like in West Hollywood, where you see hundreds of cabs working the famous Sunset Strip. So Grover and his team jumped in a cab, licensed by the city of West Hollywood, for a short ride to Hancock Park. They noticed every time the meter advanced, it clicked 35 cents, not 20 cents, as required by law. When they arrived, the fare was $21.

    "How far did we go?" Grover asked the cab driver.

    "Twelve miles," he replied.

    He's wrong. The trip was less than 4.5 miles, so he overcharged them $9.

    Grover asked the driver, "How much are you charging me per mile?"

     The cab driver wouldn't tell him and said, "Just pay whatever you want, OK?"

     "I can pay whatever I want?" Grover asked.

     "Yes," the cab driver replied.

     We'll catch up with him again in a moment, but first, back on the Sunset Strip, Grover and his team take another taxi. This time, they notice the meter is advancing at lightning speed: 14 times a minute. The cab would have to be going 80 miles per hour for the meter to legally change that fast. But he was driving less than 35 mph.

     What should've been about a $17 fare was $29.20.

     "Is your meter accurate?" Grover asked the driver.

     "I don't know. Maybe it's broken. I don't know exactly," the driver said.

     He didn't like being questioned. "Free, go ahead," the driver said.

     "The cab ride is free?" Grover asked.

     "Yes," the driver said.

     Every cab KNBC tested that was licensed by the city of West Hollywood, nine out of nine, overcharged. Four of those taxis were Checker cabs.

     "When the driver immediately starts cutting the price, what does that tell you?" Grover asked the Eugene Smolyar, president of Checker Cab.

     "It's the first sign that he did something wrong. They're getting scared that they've been caught," Smolyar told Grover.

     KNBC caught drivers overcharging us in other cities. Like cabs licensed by Long Beach and Beverly Hills. The also got stiffed in another way too: taking cabs to the airport. Many cities require taxis not to use their meter on rides to airport, but to charge a fixed, flat rate.

     Like in West Hollywood, where KNBC hopped into a Checker Cab for a ride to LAX. By law, the driver can only charge a $35 flat rate. Once at the airport, the driver tries charging Grover the much higher metered rate.

     "$68? I thought it was supposed to be a flat rate," Grover asked the cab driver.

     "What's a flat rate," the driver replied.

     But when Grover questioned him further, he suddenly offers the flat fare.

     "Okay, give me $35 and go ahead," the driver tells Grover and he denies he ever tried charging double that amount.

     "Didn't your meter say $68?" Grover asked the driver.

     "No," he replied.

     "What did it say?" Grover asked.

     "$38," the driver replied.

     Another day, Grover and his team took a cab from a Beverly Hills hotel to LAX. The driver is supposed to charge a $38 flat rate. But he tries to charge the higher metered rate of $55.40 and blames it on the rush-hour traffic.


    "From Beverly Hills, it's supposed to be a flat rate, right?" Grover asked the driver.

     "Yeah, flat rate, but when traffic..." the cab driver replied.

     "Isn't always supposed to be a flat rate?" Grover asked.

     "Yeah," the driver replied.

     All told, 12 out of 23 cabs KNBC tested appeared to cheat. This was a surprise to the cities that license them, like West Hollywood.

     "Wow. It's something we are going to correct," West Hollywood Assistant City Manager Joan English told Grover.

     It was also a surprise to the cab companies, like Checker Cab, who promised KNBC after their investigation last year to stop the cheating.

     "I'm shocked. I really thought that we really get rid of the problems to the core and right now I see we still have a big problem," Smolyar said.

     But no one was more surprised by KNBC's investigation than the drivers themselves, who had plenty of excuses for the overcharges on hidden camera, but when Grover told him he was with NBC:

     "Are you charging me the correct rate? Why are you driving away? I want to know if you're charging me the correct rate," Grover asked a cab driver as he drove off.

     Checker Cab tells KNBC it has now terminated the four drivers caught on tape. A spokesman for Independent Cab tells KNBC they plan to terminate the six drivers Grover caught overcharging. The city of West Hollywood plans to take up this matter and crack down on taxicab cheating at its next city council meeting.


    Tips To Avoid Being Taken Advantage Of When Taking Taxis


     Plan your trip. Know what distance you are traveling and what the taxi companies/legal rates are. Know roughly what your trip should cost before you take it.

    1. If you feel like you're being overcharged, ask the cab driver for a receipt. The receipt should have the driver's name, cab number, as well as pick-up and drop-off locations.
    2. Once you have a receipt and you think you are being overcharged, question the driver. If the don't concede, tell them you are going to complain to their company, the city and the police.


     L.A. Checker Cab Responds To Report


     November 6, 2007

     To: Joel Grover, National Broadcasting Center
    RE: L.A. Checker Cab

     Dear Mr. Grover,

     Please be advised that this letter shall serve as a revision to the letter already sent dated 11/1/07. You brought to my attention some problems my company was having in the City of West Hollywood. Four drivers in particular stood out for overcharges. In light of that information, as of 10/31/07, those drivers, whom are listed below, have been TERMINATED from our company. To reiterate, the drivers we spoke of were:

    CabDrivers Name
    7766Shahinyan, Hraycha
    7757Hovhanissyan, Artur
    7740Davtian, Agasi
    7752Yeprem Hovhannisyan

     The above-mentioned drivers have been asked to return their invalid permits back to the West Hollywood Department of Transportation.

     In closing, we would like to add that in no way does Checker Cab condone or accept such behavior from its’ drivers. Because of the information we have received, we have implemented new and stricter disciplinary action against our drivers for such behavior. We were also appalled at learning what was happening.

     We appreciate your time and thoroughness. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need any further assistance.

     Yevgeny Smolyar, President
    L.A. Checker Cab Co-op, Inc.


       Various Local Taxicab Rates

     Beverly Hills
    $2.20 a mile
    $35.00 flat rate to LAX
    TAXICABS AUTHORIZED TO WORK IN BEVERLY HILLS: Beverly Hills Cab; United Independent Taxi and Independent Taxi.

     Santa Monica
    The city of Santa Monica does not determine rates. Companies submit their rates to the city. There are dozens of companies authorized to work in the city.

     Los Angeles
    $2.65 Flag drop (First 1/7th mile).
    $0.35 for each additional 1/7th mile ($2.45 per mile).
    $0.35 For each 47.5 seconds waiting time and/or traffic delay ($26.53 per hour).
    $42.00 Flat fare for trips between LAX and downtown. Area bounded by Alameda St., Santa Monica Fwy., Harbor Fwy., Cesar E. Chavez, Union Station and Chinatown.
    $2.50 Surcharge for all trips originating at LAX. $15.00 Minimum fare for trips originating at LAX (In addition to the $2.50 surcharge

    $2.45 flag drop, the first 1/7 mile
    $0.35 each 1/7th mile
    $0.35 for each 47.5 seconds of waiting
    TAXICABS LICENSED TO OPERATE IN BURBANK: City Cab, Yellow Cab and Checker Cab.

    $2.45 flag drop, first 1/7 mile or 47.5 seconds of wait time. $0.35 per additional 1/7 mile.
    TAXIS AUTHORIZED TO WORK IN PASADENA: Bell Cab, Yellow Cab, Checker Cab, People's Taxi, City Taxi

    NOTE: Glendale does not regulate taxi rates. There are 5 authorized taxi companies. Their rates are:
    $2.45 drop flag first 1/7 mile; $0.35 each additional 1/7 mile or 47.5 seconds of wait time.
    TAXIS AUTHORIZED TO WORK IN GLENDALE: Bell, Checker, City Cab, People's Taxi, Yellow Cab.

     Orange County
    $2.65 flag drop, first 1/5 mile; $0.50 each additional 1/5 mile; $28.80 per hour wait time.

     Long Beach
    $2.20 flag drop, first 1/11 mile; $0.20 each additional 1/11 mile or 30 seconds of wait time. Flat rate to LAX is $49.00

     Manhattan Beach
    $2.65 flag drop, the first 1/11 mile; $.2227 first mile; $2.45 for each additional mile.

     Hermosa Beach
    $2.65 flag drop. $ 0.35 for each 1/7 mile. $0.35 for each 36 seconds of waiting time.
    TAXIS LICENSED TO WORK IN THE CITY: South Bay Yellow Cab, Bell Cab, United Independent Taxi and All Yellow Taxi.

     West Hollywood
    $2.20 flag drop, the first 1/11 mile; $0.20 each additional 1/11 mile or 30 seconds of waiting. Flat Rate to LAX is $35.00.