Seven charged in taxi fraud scheme
Drivers allegedly bribed a city official so they could charge seven times the normal fare
Six taxi drivers and a former Prague City Hall official are facing charges of fraud and corruption in a case involving overpriced fares, Czech Television reported. In some cases the taxi driver charged seven times the maximum price determined by the city. A city clerk warned the taxi drivers before spot checks so they would know not to overcharge the inspectors. Some members of the group face up to eight years in prison.
The police accused the seven member group at the end of November following several months of an undercover investigation. Prosecutor Jan Lelek confirmed to Czech Television that the charges were filed in June. The group is accused of fraud, and five of its members of bribing an an official. The official is accused of accepting a bribe and abuse of power.
The taxi drivers are alleged to have profited at the expense of tourists by charging up to Kč 200 per kilometer, while the maximum rate set by the city is Kč 28 per kilometer. The city has long been trying to stop such abuse by taxi drivers by sending inspectors to pose as tourists, but if the taxi drivers know when the inspectors are coming they can charge the standard fare that day to avoid being caught.
In Prague, there are about 2,000 active operators of taxis, over 4,600 registered vehicles and nearly 5,500 drivers. This does not count drivers using their own cars and responding to smartphone apps.
Taxi drivers can overcharge passengers two ways. One is by having the meter rigged so that it switches to a higher rate when a secret button is pushed. In local slang, the button is called a “čert,” meaning devil. The other method is by not turning on the meter at all and charging a fixed fee at the end of the ride.
Dishonest taxi drivers have long been a problem in Prague (see video below), and most guidebooks warn tourists not to take taxis that are waiting in certain areas such as Wenceslas Square but to instead call one a number of reputable firms. There have been several efforts at reform including the introduction of Fair Place taxi stands, where typical rates are posted and where only certain approved taxis can wait.
By law every taxi must be marked with a black and yellow luminous taxi sign on its roof. Both front doors must have not only an identification number, but also the basic fare rates. The same information, in greater detail, should also be available inside the taxi, along with the driver’s permit and a taxi meter, according to the City Hall website.
At the end of a journey the passenger must be issued with a receipt printed out from the taxi meter and should pay the price indicated on the taxi meter. If the driver wants to haggle over the price it is a sign that he or she is asking more than the regular fare, City Hall warns.
Complaints that these rules were not followed can be submitted to City Hall in writing or by e-mail, but they must be firsthand and not hearsay. City Hall points out that passengers are allowed to take a photo of the permit and the inside of the cab or the name on the cab door, as the driver's name is needed for a complaint.
For more information on filing a complaint, visit www.praha.eu
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