NEW YORK — Fewer New York City taxi drivers overcharged their passengers than previously believed because some were likely only fumbling the buttons on the meter for a moment after the trip was over, officials said Monday.
The head of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission told the City Council during a budget hearing that "a fairly significant number" of the 1.8 million trips thought to be overcharged did not appear to be upon closer examination of the data.
"It may have simply been a mistake by the driver," said TLC commissioner Matthew Daus.
The TLC said earlier this month that it had stumbled upon what appeared to be one of the largest taxi scams ever, in which some 35,558 drivers overcharged passengers within city limits by using a higher rate code designated for trips to the suburbs.
The city said it examined global positioning data from devices in taxis and found the higher rate code activated in 1.8 million trips within city limits over the past two years. The average rider was overcharged $4 to $5, the city said.
Officials could not immediately say Monday how many of the trips were appropriately charged.
Daus said it appears the button that activates the higher rate code was pressed at the end of many of the trips, when the taxi was already stopped.
On one of the three models of meters used by New York City taxis, the button to activate the higher rate code is right next to the button the driver pushes to end the trip. Officials believe many drivers were likely reaching for the "end trip" button next to the one that activates the higher rate code.
The city is still trying to determine the number of trips in which this occurred.
Daus said the city still believes there were drivers purposely charging the doubled rate, and said officials are still investigating those worst cases.