Journalist Janek Rubeš has long reported on crooked cabbies in Prague who overcharge visiting tourists many times the regular amount. Taking an apparent cue from the internet programme Prague vs. Crooks, the police conducted an operation which has now seen seven people – six taxi drivers and a former civil servant at City Hall – arrested. The gathering of evidence took months and the cornerstone was testimony from tourists themselves.
“This kind of operation definitely is not easy. The police had to collect a lot of evidence: What they needed was to follow the taxi drivers for long enough to be able to get each one of them to get them overcharging people to an amount over 5,000 crowns, the minimum amount constituting a criminal offence or felony. When they got enough, they arrested them and I am glad they succeeded.”
Many officers were involved in watching the cabbies but the operation also relied on using foreign tourists (sometimes agreeing beforehand, sometimes afterwards). How unusual is that as a tactic?
“We filmed the same kind of situation almost a year ago. The way it works is that the tourist is sometimes approached afterwards, for example at the airport, and they ask how much they were charged and if they were overcharged there is a translator and judge present so they can immediately get a statement and process it as evidence needed to be able to press charges. I don’t think the tactic is that unusual other than the amount of times they needed to do it to build their case.”
What will this case change? What kind of impact will it have? Despite existing regulations, despite some improvements, some taxi drivers always find they can easily overcharge when they need to… So what will it change?
“It will change the way taxi drivers will look at journalists like myself. It will make them see that this thing can come back and hurt them. The group that we filmed on Old Town Square is just one of many and the exact same thing is going on at the Main Station, at Dlouhá Street, at Náměstí republiky, and so on and so on. I mean, we could follow them for years. Now thing that will change is that they will be forced to look over their shoulders more often, and wonder whether the person in the back seat is a cop or a journalist with a hidden camera and perhaps make them think twice about [ripping someone off] again.”