Taxi drivers cited for overcharging in undercover police operation

Three taxi drivers were cited in the last few days for overcharging customers by $1 after a change last year in city ordinance regarding fares.

Taxi drivers who are overcharging riders on the peninsula, take note: Charleston police are paying attention.

Three chauffeurs were issued citations in the last few days after an undercover sting that stemmed from customer complaints of overcharging, according to police reports released Wednesday.

The sting began about 7 p.m. Friday, when two officers targeted six random taxi companies to pose as customers in plain clothes. According to a city ordinance passed in April, cab drivers cannot charge more than $7 between the hours of 5 a.m. and midnight, with an additional $1 allowance per extra passenger.

A driver from Tropical Taxi and Harvey Williams Taxi and Limo were each given citations Friday for charging the officers $8, according to an incident report. Topical Taxi did not return a request Wednesday for comment.

Companies Charleston Classic Taxi, Charleston Yellow Top Taxi, Charleston Transport and Seven Star Luxury were found to be operating Friday within the parameters of the ordinance, according to the report.

A second sting took place Monday night and a driver from Seven Star Luxury was issued a citation after charging an undercover officer $8 for a ride on the peninsula.

Harvey Williams was cited Friday. The part-time taxi driver said he was unaware of the change in ordinance prohibiting him from charging the $8.

“Here they are targeting your group for a new law, but it’s not explained,” he said. “I thought (it) was the right price.”

He said there was no direct way for drivers to know about the ordinance. The citation he received does not list a specific fine, but Williams said it could be up to $1,000.

“I know ignorance to the law is no exception, but I’m going to explain this to the judge,” he added.

Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said notice of the ordinance change was sent to media and posted on social media. There was also a public information session for taxi drivers held in May.

“Anyone who is driving a taxi also has some personal responsibility to know the laws of the business that they are operating,” he said.

Seven Star Luxury spokesman Khaled Rahhal said it was a relatively new driver who was cited Monday. Speaking on behalf of the business, he thanked police for enforcing the rules, but said the time and resources could have been better spent on more important illegal activities.

He used catching illegal cab operators or enforcing stricter policy on Uber drivers as examples.

“Rules should apply to everyone is what we believe but we don’t see it that way on the streets of downtown Charleston,” Rahhal said.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.