PHOENIX - With more than 5,000 licensed taxis, limos, and other service cars driving around the state, knowing your rights when you take a ride can make a difference when it comes to paying the right price, getting proper service, and making sure you get home safely.
The ABC15 Investigators rode undercover, flagging more than a dozen taxis near bars, sporting events, and popular hang-outs in Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix and discovered you may pay a much different price for the exact same ride, depending on the taxi you take.
Manuel Mejias said he learned that lesson the hard way.
After a night on the town, not everyone is in shape to drive, and that’s why Mejias opted to take a taxi when he celebrated his birthday in late April.
"I've taken cabs several times," he said, explaining that he regularly travels from a Phoenix bar to his Phoenix home for $10 or less.
"I was leaving, and I couldn’t find my friends. I knew I had to leave, so on my way out, I remember saying, 'I'm just going to go ahead and take a cab to get home,'" he recalled.
A few minutes into his ride, Mejias said the cab driver told him the fee would be $50.
"I just remember responding back like, '$50? That's not right,'" Mejias said.
According to a complaint he filed with the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures, Mejias said the cab driver’s meter was not running, and he told the cab driver he would not pay the price for a ride that normally costs much less.
Mejias told taxi inspectors the cab driver pulled a knife and threatened him when he refused to pay.
"I just immediately began to get scared," he said, "and that's when I began to dial 911."
According to taxi inspectors, violent encounters are rare. However, records from the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures reveal, hundreds of drivers have failed inspections for not having adequate insurance or proper licensing since 2009.
Between January 1, 2009 and April 7, 2010, a Department of Weights and Measures Taxi Overview shows 217 drivers failed inspections for not having a proper license or not having their license posted correctly. Two hundred sixty-three drivers failed inspections for having incorrect insurance, and 124 drivers failed inspection for violating rate-posting standards. Forty-one drivers had no driver's license, according to the records.
Others failed for violating maintenance standards or for having bad meters.
"This transportation business is a tough business, and the ones who are doing it right – the ones who…have insurance, maintained insurance, and use the meters, good for them," said Shawn Marquez, the Director of Compliance for the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures. "That's what they're supposed to be doing."
"Picking up strangers in the middle of the night…is a tough, tough business, and I give all those people who are in those jobs all my support – who are doing it right. Those who don't….have their cars towed, their meters taken, (and) their license plates removed," he said.
On a Friday night in April, ABC15 followed Arizona Department of Weights and Measures inspector J.J. Stroh as he patrolled the streets of Scottsdale looking for taxi, limo, and livery car drivers violating laws.
He removed a license plate, taxi sign, and Arizona Department of Weights and Measures decal from the back of a taxi after pulling over a driver for failing to charge passengers according to an appropriate meter.
An approved meter, according to Stroh, is required to help passengers know exactly what they should expect to pay for their ride.
"The passengers (in the cab) all say he was charging $10 for the short trip," said Stroh. "(The driver) ran with the meter off, which is illegal….It probably would have been cheaper by about $2 (or) $3 to use the meter," he said. "That's one of the problems we run into. People think they're getting a great deal when they’re really not."
Stroh said he removed the plate and the decal from the driver’s vehicle to prevent him from picking up other passengers during the night.
"If we just issue them paperwork and let them drive away, we'll have a re-occurrence of this in the next five minutes," he said. "This gets him off the street for the night, allows him some time to rethink it, forces him to come to our office again, and then we can re-verify everything and put him back on the road."The ABC15 Investigators’ undercover taxi test included six rides straight down Mill Ave. in Tempe. The same 2.6-mile trip cost us five different prices ranging from $5 to $12.
Stroh said prices can vary based on a cab’s flag rate, rate per mile, and rates for wait times, but the prices should be posted inside and outside of the cab.
We found some that were not posted inside the vehicles, and we discovered two drivers who used their odometers to calculate the charge for a ride, instead of using a legal method.
"An odometer is not a legal certified device of any kind," said Shawn Marquez, the Director of Compliance for the Arizona Department of Weights