The investigators can't ticket the vehicles simply because they look like taxicabs. Fake cab drivers have to be caught in the act of picking a customer up before a citation can be handed out.
This means that Charles and Eric do a lot of basic police work like compiling records, checking addresses and looking for patterns. They now have a listing of 25 illegal taxis with vehicle licenses.
They have tracked down locations where the bogus cabs are parked and know where some of the phony cab drivers live. (To read complete posts click on the photos).
Taxi Services will soon have the ability to look up the addresses where the cars are registered which will make the job much easier. In the meantime, the duo spend a lot of time following bandit cabs and staking out places where they know fake taxis are usually parked.
If this seems like mucho work, there is a reward. Thanks to legislation drawn up by Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi, there is an administrative fine of $5,000. So far eight tickets have been given out (although three of those were for driving a legal cab without an A-card). Furthermore, these administrative fines cannot be lowered but in one case a Hearing Officer took pity on the bandit driver and gave him a 24-month payment plan.
Eric and Charles have a goal of wiping out fake taxis in San Francisco. "If there were fifteen illegal cabs in the Mission," Eric said, "and we only got five, we wouldn't be satisfied."
We started out in the Excelsior and Outer Mission checking out known places and hoping that the drivers would take the pseudo cabs out so we could bust them. Below are a few of the illegal cabs that are part of Charles' and Eric's 25.
Eric spotted 712 driving on Mission and we followed hoping that the driver'd pick up a flag but he only went home for a break. We drove back to Mission searching for more illegals.
Eric spent several years policing drug gangs in Oakland. I asked him if that was what made him such a polite person. He gave me a wry smile and said, "No - that was just a lot of fun" in a way that made me think I'd rather have him with me than against me in a fight.
He soon spotted a bandit that they'd been looking for carrying passengers on Mission Street. Eric whipped a wild u-turn that was worth at least two points on a DMV printout (I wanna be a cop in my next life) and followed the fake cab to a house in the Excelsior. We waited a half block away while the driver dropped off a family and drove back onto the street. The hunt was on.
Eric pulled the classic maneuver of passing the bogus taxi and letting it pass us a bit later.
Charles and Eric recognized the driver from a photograph that had been sent to them by a real cab driver. The real driver had confronted the fraud and threatened to call the cops. The guy jumped out of his vehicle, said that he was a cop and expressed his feelings about the threat. Eric now calls him Public Enemy #1.
It's not a good idea, by the way, to confront these guys. Nothing good can come of it. Just get the car's phony name and number, license and phone numbers as well as any photos or videos and send them to Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We followed P.E.1 from Ocean and Mission to Valencia and Ceasar Chavez where he lost us at a red light. I think he made us and took evasive maneuvers but Eric didn't agree. Whatever - the dude was gone.
We went downtown, spent a couple of hours without finding much and were about to head home when we turned down Polk and spotted Day Cab parked across from McTeague's.
Charles got out, did his trout fishing thing "can't spook the fish" and flushed the bandit driver out by desperately flagging down full cabs. He used to be an actor and played the role beautifully.
Charles got into the bogus cab, went up Sutter to Gough and had the man pull over. Eric blocked off the car and politely busted him.
The fake cab driver turned off his meter and told Charles to say that he was only being given a ride. Charles stayed in character and just said, "Hey mon, what's happening?"
The man has gone to a great deal of trouble to make his car look like a cab. The meter even works though it starts at under $3 and goes up faster than a regular meter. After just two blocks it read $4.50.
When the word starts getting out about the $5,000 fines, my guess is that a lot of these guys are going to decide against using their cars to pick up a little extra cash.
Once again, Eric's e-mail address is email@example.com. Send all the names, license and phone numbers of illegal taxis that you might have his way along with any photos or videos.
Charles and Eric would also like you to call them to report any illegal vehicles you see. During most of the week they work the day shift but they are going to be hunting bandit taxis most Friday or Saturday nights from now on. Eric's cell phone number is 510-867-4694.