Hail? No! City stings livery cabbies in Downtown

Hail? No! City stings livery cabbies in Downtown
Photo by Tom Callan

What the hail?

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is cracking down on livery cabs accepting street hails in Brooklyn — even though the illicit practice may soon be legalized.

Last Thursday, enforcement officers caught a dozen cabbies in an elaborate sting on Court Street — an operation witnessed by our intrepid shutterbug Tom Callan.

As this sequence of photos show, the plan was simple: an undercover inspector flagged down a livery cab at the corner of Schermerhorn Street. After agreeing on a price, the agent signaled to his team, which surrounded the car, ordering the driver to get out.

“At first [the undercover inspector] is laughing and smiling, but once a deal is struck, he gets really nasty,” said Callan, recounting how everything went down. “He puts up his hand, pulling his team over and tells the driver, ‘Shut off your car right now!’ One time he pulled the keys right out of the ignition.”

Snagged drivers were slapped with $350 tickets. The cabbie’s home base also receives a $100 summons.

Repeat offenders could lose their license, according to a Taxi and Limousine Commission report released in April. Bases can receive fines of up to $10,000.

Livery cab companies find the undercover operations unnecessarily aggressive.

Stung! City enforcement agents set up a sting on Court Street on Friday, nabbing livery cab drivers who negotiated prices with would-be passengers. In this sequence, an undercover officer flags down a cab, negotiates a price and then calls in his muscle.
Photo by Tom Callan

“It’s not fair,” said Sherri Jackson, a dispatcher for Portal Car Service, one of the companies caught in last Thursday’s sting. “[The Taxi and Limousine Commission] harass and intimidate us, but I don’t know why. All we’re trying to do is make an honest living.”

Taxi Commission spokesman Allan Fromberg disagreed, but did say that operations like the Court Street crackdown are happening all over the city. More than 3,000 illegal street hail summonses have been given out.

“It’s part of our normal enforcement protocol,” Fromberg said. “As long as this problem exists, we’ll be there to enforce it.”

A Taxi and Limousine Commission study found that illegal hail activity is a prevalent problem at subway stations, shopping areas and nightlife districts throughout Brooklyn.

In Sheepshead Bay, for example, a line of livery cabs can be found idling outside the Sheepshead Bay Road station, looking to pick up commuters on the final leg in their trip.

A recent city study showed that 19 illegal street hails took place every hour at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Avenue V – just a block away from the Kings Plaza Mall in Mill Basin. But that was nothing compared to what was found in Coney Island: 65 illegal hails took place every hour at the corner of Mermaid and Stillwell avenues – in the heart of the amusement district.

All of this could become moot if Albany passes a Bloomberg Administration bill to allow street hails outside of Manhattan.

Yellow cab drivers oppose the bill, claiming that it would devalue the pricey medallions that gives them exclusive rights to street pickups.

Photo by Tom Callan