Aug. 6, 2012 at 6:30 PM ET
One of tourists’ favorite ways to experience the Big Apple is under scrutiny after outrage over a pedicab driver who allegedly charged visitors hundreds of dollars for short rides.
“It’s getting to a whole new level of extortion, really. It’s just an abomination,” said Gregg Zuman, vice president of the New York City Pedicab Owners’ Association, which is fighting for best practices in the industry.
“We want people to come back and have another pedicab ride, not say, ‘I’ll never do this again and gosh, why would I come back to New York if I’m going to get treated like this?’”
The concern comes after two families from Texas and Maryland said a pedicab driver recently asked them to pay more than $400 for 10-minute trips, surprising them with outlandish prices that were printed in tiny letters on his rate card and adding hidden charges at the end of the rides, according to the New York Post. It would have been cheaper to fly by helicopter, the newspaper noted.
Zuman said he talked with members of both families and called the incidents “an abuse of trust.”
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses pedicabs, is encouraging the tourists involved to file a complaint so it can look into the situation, said spokeswoman Abby Lootens.
“(Pedicab drivers) are allowed to set their own rates, but this does seem a bit high,” Lootens told NBC News.
The city also has rules concerning how big the print spelling out the rates needs to be. In addition, pedicabs are only allowed to have three passengers, but it appears the driver allowed four people to go for a ride in those instances, which would be a violation, she said.
Meanwhile, the New York City Pedicab Owners’ Association worries such incidents are giving a black eye to honest pedicab drivers and the city’s lucrative tourism industry.
The association — which represents the owners of about 100 pedicabs — is pushing for a law that would require pedicab drivers to give potential customers a full-price quote upfront. Right now, rates are required to be posted, but visitors can easily get confused by “initial fees,” “per block fees,” “per person fees” and “per avenue fees” that can quickly add up to astronomical sums.
The group also wants the city to tighten licensing and pay attention to the immigration status of applicants.
“They give business permits to people who are not allowed to practice business in the United States,” Zuman said.
So what can you do to avoid problems if you are looking to take a pedicab ride?
Look for the rate signs.
Rate signs must be posted on both sides of the pedicab, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs said. If the rate is based on time, you must be able to see the timer. If rates are quoted per block, ask the driver to estimate how many blocks your trip will be. The rates quoted are almost always per person.
Always demand a full quote before you get in the pedicab, Zuman said.
Get a receipt.
Pedicabs must give you a receipt with the amount of the ride, the name of the company, the driver’s license number, the business’ phone number and information on how to file a complaint.
If you feel you have been ripped off, also write down the four-digit license number on the front of the pedicab, Zuman said.
Armed with this information, you can complain to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs online, or you can also call 311 within New York City or 212-NEW-YORK outside of the city.
Zuman also encouraged visitors to contact the New York City Pedicab Owners’ Association with any concerns.
“It’s extortion basically and the POA (Pedicab Owners' Association) doesn’t think there’s any place for this sort of behavior in the city,” Zuman said.
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