On Drinking, Driving, and the Cabbie That Waits Outside the Palm Beach County Jail

After spending eight hours in a jail cell recovering from a night of ill-conceived drinking, getting ripped off by the cabbie that drives you home would seem to add insult to injury. But that's what a 30-year-old woman from Boca Raton says she faced during a recent encounter with West Coast Taxi in West Palm Beach.

One Sunday morning in late March, the woman, who did not want her name printed, was miserable, dehydrated and eager to get the hell out of the Palm Beach County Jail after being arrested for her first-ever D.U.I. But of course, her car had been towed when she was arrested, so she had no ride. She emerged from the jail to find a West Coast Taxi cab waiting outside. Cabs from that company are a regular fixture outside the jail, presumably because newly released inmates are a captive customer base.

That morning, the woman's driver said he wasn't familiar with the Sheehan's Towing lot in West Palm, so she gave him her cell phone so he could get directions from someone at the lot.

She then noticed the driver heading southwest--even though the lot is northeast of the jail.But she was tired and unsure of the route herself, so she couldn't direct him. What really worried her was the meter in the cab, which was accruing charges at an alarming rate.

"It sort of looked like the deficit," she says. "It just kept going."

In the end, the total price tag reached $50. The woman wrote the cabbie a check, and went to retrieve her car. It was only later, when she looked up the route online, that she realized something was amiss. The tow lot was less than four miles from the jail.

"There's no good reason or explanation for why he took me that way," she says.

The woman is now planing to file a complaint with Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs, the state attorney general's office, and the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. Apparently, West Coast Taxi has had some trouble with overcharging in the past.

Workers from the state Bureau of Weights and Measures-- which despite its medieval title is an actual division of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services-- inspect the meters in Florida's taxi cabs about once a year. Last August, two out of West Coast's three taxi meters (it's a small operation) were found to be inaccurate. They were calculating prices at a higher rate than they should  have been, explains Bureau Chief Max Gray. 

The cabs were temporarily taken out of service. But a few days later, West Coast employees brought them back, and they were retested and approved, Gray said.  The meters were also sealed so that if anyone tampers with them, the inspectors will notice the next time they check.

Grays says his bureau hasn't received any other complaints about the company, and the database at Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs shows it hasn't received any complaints in the past three years, either. Anesson Joseph, president of West Coast Taxi, could not be reached for comment this morning.

But next time you're looking for a ride home from jail, keep a close eye on the meter.

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