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NY puts foot down after US$442 pedicab fare

NEW YORK--Even in an era of US$500 hotel rooms and US$18 cocktails, the US$442 that a Texas family paid for a ride in a New York City pedicab has become notorious.

The outrageous fare made headlines in the city's tabloids over the summer, and since then, officials have been pushing for a simplified pricing structure so tourists don't get taken for a ride.

Even operators of the pedicabs — essentially adult tricycles with a padded seat that can carry three passengers — say publicity over the mother of all shakedown fares has given all of them a bad name.

“It was not good for us,” Souleymane Toure said as he hawked riders for his pedicab in Central Park. “Because any time you stop somebody for the ride they say, 'Are you going to charge us US$400?'”

Pedicab operators are allowed to charge whatever they like as long as their prices are posted on the side of the cab. But listed prices are often based on a confusing formula — for example, an initial charge of US$5, plus US$1 or US$2 per short block and US$3, US$4 or US$5 per long block. And not all rate cards state clearly that the charges are per rider. A loop through Central Park can be US$40, US$50 or more per passenger.

That was what led to the US$442 fare, which Councilman Dan Garodnick cited during a hearing on the issue last week.

The driver told the Texas couple after their 14-block ride that there was a US$100 fare for each additional passenger, even though the daughters, who sat on their parents' laps were 7 and 9. It was technically illegal to have four passengers, but such a trip for three people ordinarily costs US$80 to US$100.

A proposal before the City Council would scrap the rate cards for a per-minute charge that each driver could set. “They would set it, they would post it and that's the story,” Garodnick said. “What we don't want are surprises at the end.”

Drivers say they would support changing the current system, but not all agree on what it should be changed to.

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A pedicab driver takes a couple for a tour of New York's Central Park, Saturday, Oct. 20. Ever since a Texas family paid a pedicab driver US$442 to ride 14 blocks in New York City this summer, city officials have been pushing for a simplified pricing structure so tourists don't get taken for a ride.

(AP)

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