Service of Con Jobs: Pedicabs join list of scammers NYC tourists should avoid

July 8th, 2013

Categories: Cheating, Con jobs, New York City, Pedicabs, Travel

Con game

One of the foreign students I mentor—I’ll call her Daphne–shared her experience with me because she doesn’t want anyone else to fall for what happened to her. Read on and you’ll see she’s far from alone.

This young juggler with multiple internships in a graduate program was late for class. She was stranded three avenues and 19 blocks from where she had to be, in a part of NYC far from the subway, at a time there were no free taxis. A pedicab came along and she jumped in. In her country, pedicabs are cheap.

pedicab 1Arriving at school—having heard a song and dance throughout the ride about how the driver wished he could afford to go to the college she was attending [and where he was driving her]—she asked what she owed. His reply: $125. She questioned this [!] and he handed her a rate card that noted he charged $3/block; $4 an avenue, 20 percent sales tax along with some mumbo jumbo. “I was too shocked to do the math plus he had a calculator so I figured he was right,” said Daphne. After negotiation he gave her “a discount” and she paid $108.

On her return home that night after class she called the Consumer Affairs office—she shared his name and other information in his email as she’d paid by credit card and he’d sent her an electronic receipt.

How muchShe learned that he didn’t have a pedicab license and wasn’t authorized to drive one or pick up passengers. She was advised to tell her bank to cancel the charge but the bank clerk explained that because she signed off on the charge, he couldn’t do that. However, if she could present a letter of complaint written by Consumer Affairs about this driver and her experience she could file a claim which the bank would consider. [Someone suggested that she say that she had signed nothing. This lie was out of the question she said.]

Lessons learned: Always ask the price or for a rate card and before entering a pedicab in NYC, ask to see a NYC pedicab license and as of this week, a timer.

Mark SimoneIt could have been worse. On the Fourth of July talk show host Mark Simone [photo right] on WOR Radio reported that a pedicab charged $425 to a group of four. A website, commuteronline.com, noted more precisely that the amount was $442.54. Simone said that the driver falsely signed a document to get his license. He claimed that he had not received prior summonses when in fact there had been six. Simone declared that pedicabs should be forbidden in the city as they cause traffic tangles and the drivers are unscrupulous.

On July 5 WMAC Northeast Public Radio covered “How to Spend $442 on a 15-Minute Cab Ride.” Quoting a pedicab driver and president of the industry association, Laramie Flick about this incident: “Before the ride, [the driver] told them it was a dollar a block. After the ride, he told them it was a dollar a block, yes, but it was $100 minimum per person. Then he asked them for a tip.” The “them” were the passengers. The website commuteronline.com noted that doormen at major NYC hotels report trying to help frantic passengers who were similarly fleeced.

Pedicab 3Mayor Bloomberg signed a law at the end of last year in which pedicab drivers must charge by the minute and the timer must be in clear view. This is what Daphne wanted people to know. Nevertheless, according to commuteronline.com, the city isn’t bending over backwards to support the victims.

However WMAC noted: “New York City does not want tourists to leave town feeling like they got hosed by a pedicab driver. So the city worked with Flick and the pedicab drivers to come up with new rules, which are set to take effect next week. The drivers can still choose their own rates. But those rates have to be posted clearly, and they have to apply to all customers. Per minute. No matter what.”

According to Findlaw.com: “The pedicab driver shall provide passengers with a receipt  listing the amount of the charge for the use of the pedicab, the license number of the pedicab business and a telephone number of such business to which complaints by consumers shall be directed, the pedicab driver’s  license number  and  the  telephone number at the department where complaints by consumers can be reported.”

Eons ago I visited Daphne’s country. We’d spent too much on taxis so we opted for a pedicab on a route we knew. Like Daphne we didn’t ask the price but figured it had to be less than the taxi fare. When we arrived the driver charged precisely what the taxis had! We noted this but in the end, not wanting to be the ugly American, we paid.

When you’re overcharged in a foreign country, what do you do? What has your pedicab experience been anywhere in the world? Are you infuriated and ashamed as I am that these NYC conmen target young people like Daphne and countless tourists with such a scam?

 Tourists in NYC

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10 Responses to “Service of Con Jobs: Pedicabs join list of scammers NYC tourists should avoid”

  1. Larry Said:

    Good for Daphne that she called Consumer Affairs.

  2. Hank Goldman Said:

    I really believe many tourist rip-offs are a case of, “When in Rome”! You don’t want to “rock the boat” if that’s how you think the culture operates.

    It literally happened to us… in ROME.

    We were boarding a train from Rome to Florence, struggling with our luggage in the overhead racks. We refused, at first, what we thought was a “kind offer” of help from two young women…. Then we said, “OK”, and we thanked them, and they INSISTED on a “tip”!

    WHAT?

    Ok, we’re not cheapskates, so we offered them a small contribution…. they said, “Its not enough!”!

    We began to argue and a nice Roman gentleman stepped in and told us they were scam artists who happened to find us! He told them to take what we offered and GET OFF THE TRAIN… Other travellers may not be so Lucky!

    —-Oh, and be sure to always, “Watch your Wallet!” when you are looking, or being involved, ELSEWHERE !!!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    Excellent tips.

    I notice so few people helping others lug large parcels or heavy suitcases to the overheads on the train I take upstate–they are riveted to their smartphones, gazing off in the distance and don’t think for a second that they should help.

    However, when someone does, other than hearty thank you’s, I’ve never seen anyone offer a tip [nor would I]. Like you, I would have accepted the help and would not have expected to give a cent. You were very lucky that a local intervened for you. Not sure how many would have here for reasons noted above.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Larry,

    I agree.

    I’d be happy if she’d get her money back!

  5. JPM Said:

    I’ve lived in New York too long to be taken in by such an obvious tourist “gouging gimmick” as a pedicab. I’ve never taken one and never will. I’ve never been to the top of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or Coney Island either and never will.

    But in fairness, many is the time that I’ve helped, or watched others help, lost or bewildered tourists, especially those that do not speak English. Likewise, many is the time when I’ve been travelling abroad that people have gone out of their way to help me.

    When I travel, I expect to pay more than the natives, to be gypped and even to be robbed, and I’ve been all of those. I’ve even had to bribe immigration inspectors at airports to get in or out of a country. I don’t like it, but it comes with the territory.

    Rule of thumb: Do your homework before you visit somewhere. Find out what is safe to do and what isn’t, what to watch out for, what parts of town to stay out of, what things should cost and so forth. There are places I’ve been, where I didn’t leave the hotel unless I had a secure car and driver to take me, and others where I’ve felt safe on empty streets at 2:00 in the morning.

    Actually, New York has been a relatively good place to visit the past decade or two, but watch out what happens next year after, as seems likely, we elect a new “anti-law-and-order” mayor!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JPM,

    Your advice is sound, but not everyone has the time to research all the customs beyond whether to tip at a restaurant and how much or if the service is included, how much more to leave etc. In one of the examples in the post, the tourists asked the pedicab driver what the ride would cost. He stated the amount before the trip and then noted only once the trip was over a $100 per person minimum….no amount of research can help with that.

    Before leaving for Madrid I read a travel article from a well regarded source that warned me to be especially careful of pickpockets. I mentioned this to my husband. We took a walk several hours after arriving at our hotel and my husband was pickpocketed! We’d done the homework but it didn’t help! He didn’t leave his passport or credit cards in the hotel safe and both were gone in a flash.

    As for your comment about the new mayor, I share your concern. I remember too clearly what it was like when I feared taking the subway after rush hour. I’m always watchful–it’s part of city life. But watchful isn’t anxious.

  7. DManzaluni Said:

    I would have laughed in the guy’s face if someone tried to tell me that there is an undisclosed $100 minimum on top of a nickel fare. If he had looked serious after that I tend to take out my cellphone and start snapping his face in various different expressions and be seen to start deleting the ones similar to ones I already have. If he still persists, ask him if he can do better ’cause I am running out of space on my phone.

    I once had this sort of experience at Linate (a taxi driver trying to charge me about twice what I had always paid to get from the city to Linate). I adopted the negotiation mechanism of chopping a third off the amount I was offering every time I made a new offer, after he had rejected my last offer (or rolled his eyes skyward, depending how you interpret whatever he was doing).

    He was kinda hoping I was late for a flight, which I wasn’t.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    DManazluni,

    As I read your comment it became clear that when you are certain you are correct it’s best to stand your ground and tell yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The scammer isn’t going to call the police, but in one of the articles I read about the pedicab cheats—I think on computeronline.com—a passenger did and the policman shrugged and took the driver’s side.

    Time was not on Daphne’s side as it was yours at the Milan airport. Regardless, the confrontation can be intimidating to many such as me. My father’s flamboyant temper helped protect him from these attempts but the head-for-the-hills approach isn’t a fit for me. I wish though.

    Your cool negotiating and not letting the eye-rolling get to you also helps.

    When I think of a 14 block ride for $442 for four or a 19 block ride + three avenues for one at $108 I get weak in the knees. I imagine that if Daphne, who is petite, had tossed $10 at the guy and raced to the door of the school, the physically fit pedicab driver would have run after and caught up with her. I shudder at the vision.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    I was in a hurry to get somewhere, and was considering a cab when a Pedi-thing materialized looking for a fare. Figured that the requested cost was about three times that of a cab, so the intended victim decided walking was healthier for both self and purse. From the above stories, this fellow was dirt cheap.

    What is difficult to understand is that people, regardless of their location, and in the case of a grad student (presumably having some brains)neglect to question what they are getting into before hiring a service. Perhaps not having enough money, either as student or adult, to afford being rooked is a great help. Others simply object to being cheated and learn to defend themselves from fraud.

    Thieves are universal, and whether here or abroad, they are out to get what they can. Common sense with a heaping spoonful of vigilance will keep us out of trouble most of the time. Nothing is ever 100%, so as to the rest – we just chalk it up to experience.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Daphne admitted that she should have asked ahead of time…I don’t know about you but I find that when I’m rushed and very late I don’t always do the smartest thing. The $400+ family was given a price of $1/street. The $100/pp minimum was the surprise on arrival. Lucky you didn’t take the pedicab–goodness knows what surprise the driver had in store for you.

    Beating a dead horse–the citibike program–as people begin to have accidents we will see what happens with another initiative launched without rules and regulations. When people are hurt, who pays? The pedicab drivers are supposed to have licenses but Daphne’s driver didn’t and I bet he’s not alone. And nothing has been enforced with the pedicabs. We’ll see what happens after this week when new rules are in place–will the city pay for commercials to promote them? I hope so.

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