Monday, July 18, 2011

The old taxi scam is alive and well

Our trucking business is not the only segment of the transportation industry to be laced with companies pretending to be bona fide. When I was in Minnesota last week – specifically St. Paul – I was reminded there’s CDL fraud everywhere.

I had filed my story on OOIDA v. Minnesota State Patrol, which reported on a hearing held Friday in U.S. District Court. I was ready to leave town, and the hotel where I stayed called me a taxi for the airport. I went out to the curb to wait. The doorman was nearby, but otherwise I was alone.

A Yellow cab drove up and eased to the curb. I picked up my bag – but hold on! An old white Lincoln Town Car careened into the space reserved for taxi pickup, swerved around the Yellow Cab and nosed the Town Car straight onto the concrete apron outside the hotel’s double doors. Yipes! Pointing at me and carrying on like he’d lost his mind, yelling “Ima here first!” out the passenger window.  He was clearly not going to let the Yellow driver get the fare – which was me.

He leapt out of the unmarked Town Car and grabbed my luggage and threw it in his trunk. In seconds, he was pointing me toward the car, which had no stickers, no apparent cab equipment inside on the dash. He was shouting at me, “You go with me! Now!”

I stammered “who the hell are you” or something like that, and he said: “The hotel call me, you go to airport, right? Ima you man. GET IN. Quick!”

The Golden Rule of Travel according to my globe-trottin’ mother kicked in. Never get in a cab that’s not clearly marked. I yelled, “Hold on, give me my suitcase back; I AM NOT GOING WITH YOU!”

By this time, the Yellow cabbie was getting out of his cab. He was a guy who looked like Ice Road Trucker Alex’s twin brother. He bellowed at the bogus cabbie: “You’re listening to the scanner, right? Got any insurance? License? You don’t, do ya?”

The jittery faker jumped back into the old Town Car as if he was going to take off, and I thought “Oh no, there goes my luggage!” Then the Yellow cabbie started writing down the license number. The exasperated phony saw this and got back out of the car, sprung the trunk lid and tossed my luggage back on the sidewalk. I heard him snarling in half English and half some other language for the pissed-off Yellow cabbie or the doorman – who was oddly turning his cheek to this whole incident – not to turn him in.

Thirty seconds later, I was safely loaded into the Yellow cab and off to the airport. On the way, the legit cabbie explained that there was a big problem in the taxi business in the Twin Cities. According to him, gangs of Somalians use the unmarked Town Cars as a bogus taxi or limo service. They listen to the scanner and race to the fare to beat the legitimate cab service.

I later called the hotel and reported the incident. The manager was apparently out of the office and another not-so-helpful person came to the phone. He didn’t write down my name or when I was a guest or anything. The assistant dude didn’t ask for details or even sound too interested. He said he’d pass it on.

I was glad the real CDL holder – the professional cabbie – had my back. Yellow Cab gets points. The hotel doesn’t score so well. Apathy like that is partly what allows these phony baloney scammers to survive … and thrive.