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Cabdriver says woman should have paid $117

The United Cab driver who was stiffed after he carried an 83-year-old woman from the airport to Port Richey said Tuesday that he wishes he could see the passenger in court.

Catherine Saloma was arrested Saturday after she refused to pay driver Christopher Igbokwe the $117 fare he said was due him.

Though United Cab general manager Nancy Castellano said she planned to drop charges against Saloma, Igbokwe told the Times on Tuesday that he believes Saloma knew more than she let on.

"All she did was play the age card," Igbokwe said. "My meter is sitting right on the dashboard _ even a blind man would see my meter running."

Saloma told the Times that when she boarded the white Ford Aerostar minivan at Tampa International Airport, she thought the ride would cost in the $25 to $30 range of shuttle services she'd taken in the past and that she was shocked by the fare.

But by Igbokwe's account the fare was fair, considering the events:

Igbokwe said he drove up the Veteran's Expressway, got off on State Road 54 and proceeded to Saloma's house. Greg Cox, executive director of the Hillsborough County Transportation Commission, said that he learned Igbokwe also stopped to get directions after Saloma got lost.

When Igbokwe arrived at Saloma's house, Igbokwe said, the meter was at about $85. No one was home and Saloma asked Igbokwe to wait for close to an hour, he said _ time that would add up to $18 by United's wait time rate of 35 cents for every 70 seconds. Then he drove Saloma about 5 or 6 miles to her daughter's house.

Taking into consideration United's per-mile rate of $1.75 plus $2 per mile, Igbokwe's account is feasible. If he ended up driving a total of 41.6 miles to Saloma's home and then 6 more miles to her daughter's home, the meter would have been up to $97. Then, there would have been wait time charges and $2 in tolls.

But Saloma maintains Igbokwe's account is all wrong. Her house is only a few blocks from her daughter's, she said. And Igbokwe is exaggerating the wait time, she said: "I am not a liar."

Cox said he doesn't believe there's any reason to continue the investigation into overcharging. Castellano said Monday that she'd never before had problems with Igbokwe, an employee for four years.

But state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he's sticking by Saloma. After reading about Saloma's arrest in Monday's Times he successfully urged Castellano to drop the charges against the woman.

"We're talking about an 83-year-old senior citizen," Fasano said, "who, in my opinion, you always give the benefit of the doubt."

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