Sunday, January 9, 2011


Undercover sting targets taxis overcharging students
From The Independent Florida Alligator

A joint investigation of local cab companies by Gainesville and University Police revealed that many cab drivers have been operating against city ordinances to overcharge customers, adding hard evidence to a long list of complaints of unfair practices.

The operation was launched in late fall in response to ongoing complaints from UF students that drivers were overcharging them for non-metered rides, according to a UPD press release.

UPD and GPD worked undercover with members of UF Student Government, and on two separate nights last semester, took rides from random companies all over the city.

Out of 19 fares, 11 were found in violation of City Ordinance 28, which requires cab drivers to use their meters for paying customers.

The punishment for breaking the ordinance is a $50 fine.

“We’ve heard numerous times that drivers were taking advantage of students,” said Jillian Rogers, the SG liaison to UPD. “It’s always been an issue, but until now, no one could do anything about it.”

The results of the investigation, as well as ideas to curb the problem, will be open for discussion in a combined Student Senate and Gainesville City Commission meeting, open to the public on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m., in the Reitz Union Auditorium.

“It’s great that UPD, GPD and SG are working together to fix this problem,” Rogers said. “This is the only way right now and we’re taking positive steps to protect students in the future.”

If I were handed this story, I would most definitely not run it. With only one source, it is not balanced because it does not provide the cab companies with their defense. It also does not provide students’ reactions to the news, which is very important in a story that obviously affects many of the newspaper’s readers.
I would also want some questions answered before I would consider running this. Specifically, I would want to know if it was only students who were being overcharged. Right now, the story makes it seem like students were the only victims, but it does not provide any specifics about the ratio of students to non-students who were affected.

1. Who are the people affected?
Students are affected. However, it is not clear if it is only students who are being overcharged. Do cab drivers bump up the prices for everyone?

2. How are people affected or how might they be affected?
This story definitely sparks interest among readers, especially because it is a student newspaper. Many students may be motivated to no longer use cab services after reading this story. The story might also motivate cab companies to ensure that their drivers are abiding by city ordinances to prevent overcharging.

3. Why are you writing this?
To make students aware of the corruption that is occurring among cab companies, corruption that has a direct effect on them.

4. Who are the bureaucrats?
The bureaucrats would be representatives from University Police and the Gainesville Police Department, UF Student Government leaders and representatives from cab companies.

5. What are the key questions?
-    How often were people being overcharged? By how much?
-    Were only students being overcharged?
-    How are cab companies responding to the investigation?
-    Was there a certain type of student overcharged most often (race, ethnicity, etc.)?
-    Are students now less likely to use cabs?

6. What research must you do?
The reporter would want to look at the detailed results of the investigation, including the details on who all was affected by the overcharging.

7. Where can you go?
For this story, the location of the interviews is really not all that important, especially because it is not a feature story. However, it is always best to do the stories in person, rather than over the phone.

8. What are you missing?
The story is missing information from several sources. Right now, it only has one source, the Student Government liaison to UPD. This is not nearly enough for this story to be balanced and complete.
Most crucially, the story is lacking key information from  a very important source: the cab companies. This story is unbalanced because it does not provide these companies with the opportunity to defend themselves. Even if they are unwilling to talk, the story needs to include the fact that the reporter attempted to contact them.
It is also missing the reactions of students to the investigation. The story lacks a human aspect because it only has a bureaucrat source.

9. How can you be creative?
For a follow-up, the reporter could do his or her own investigation by riding various cabs to see if he or she is overcharged.

10. What is your vision?
After speaking with more sources, this story could be completely reworked to provide more human accounts and personal stories of overcharging. It could also include a firsthand account from the reporter if he or she does his or her own investigation.

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