NEW YORK (1010 WINS / WCBS 880) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling for steeper penalties for taxicab drivers who refuse rides based on the passenger’s destination.

WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb with the story

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New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission said reported incidences of service refusal have been on the rise. Between July and December of 2009, passengers reported 1,963 incidences, while complaints spiked over 38 percent during the last half of 2010 to 2,341 reported service refusals.

“Unfortunately, it is getting to be like the bad old days, when taxis wouldn’t go to Brooklyn,” said TLC Commissioner and Chair David Yassky.

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Yellow cab drivers are prohibited by law from turning away passengers wishing to any of the five boroughs or certain areas outside the city.

“A core component of taxi service is that the passenger chooses where to go in the five boroughs,” Yassky said. “I strongly encourage taxi riders to call 311 each and every time they are denied service.”

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Yassky and Mayor Bloomberg are pushing stiffer penalties for cabbies who refuse customers based on destination.

The proposed penalties would be a $500 fine for the first offense, and $750 and a 30-day license suspension for a second offense within two years. Currently, a service refusal carries a $200 to $350 fine for a first offense, and a $350 to $500 fine – and possible 30-day suspension – for a second offense. Third offenses within a three-year period would remain the same – mandatory TLC license revocation.

The TLC uses a “secret shopper” program to curb the practice, but passenger complaints are the catalyst for most summonses.

The commission recently partnered with Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs to enhance the “secret shopper” enforcement. The program deploys students to attempt street hails, particularly in the evening or late at night – when drivers are more likely to refuse service in hopes of staying in Manhattan and closer to another fare.

“True to the school’s mission of service, these students are proving themselves to be a valuable resource in our fight against service refusal,” Commissioner Yassky said. “I hope to use such academic resources again in the future to bolster our efforts.”

The TLC said it continues to monitor service refusal complaints closely, and strongly encourages any members of the riding public to report incidences at either 311, or at www.nyc.gov/taxi.

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