Taxi ‘kidnap’ of tourists shows growing industry desperation, say drivers

The taxi industry has suffered crippling losses lately –– from Yellow Cab filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy to new boosts for ride-hail darlings Uber and Lyft.

In that climate of taxi desperation, one driver appears to have reacted strongly in the face of a passenger declining to pay him.

A taxi driver “kidnapped” a tourist at a Fisherman’s Wharf hotel Monday night, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

The driver ferried the three tourists into his Ford Escape, an orange and black cab, to find a restaurant. When they couldn’t find it, he took them back to their Fisherman’s Wharf hotel, according to police.

But when they returned, one of the tourists refused to pay –– and in response, the driver threatened to go to a Police Station and drove the passengers about a mile against their will, police said.

After one mile, the driver stopped, spit on one of the tourists and attempted to drive off, causing one of the tourists to “fall” out of the vehicle, according to police.

No arrest was made, and the crime was classified by police as a “kidnapping.”

Taxi drivers from across San Francisco have told the San Francisco Examiner tales lately of the desperation facing drivers as traffic congestion makes short, lucrative trips tougher –– and the 37,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in San Francisco vastly outnumber the roughly 1,800 taxi drivers.

They also face increased competition thanks to a recent state law that allows Uber and Lyft drivers to rent cars instead of “sharing” their own personal vehicles.

Previously, John Lazar, president of Luxor Cabs, said his drivers are facing tough times, resulting in fewer rides for people who use wheelchairs and depend on specialized cabs that Uber and Lyft don’t offer.

Taxi and limousine driver Douglas O’Connor, the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Uber, said drivers feel increasingly pushed to their personal limits.

“July and August were pretty horrible months for pretty much everybody” trying to earn a living driving a cab, O’Connor said. “It seemed like there was a lack of business from Outside Lands until Labor Day. It really fell off.”

Because of the dwindling profits due to competition with Uber and Lyft, who face far less government regulation, O’Connor said, drivers “are getting desperate now.”

In fact, O’Connor said, he also recently drove a passenger who refused to pay him his fare.

When O’Connor drove a passenger from San Francisco to Oakland, the passenger said, “My credit card is on file” as if she were an Uber rider, and walked out of his cab without paying him the fare –– which was about $68, an amount that can make a day of driving unprofitable.

“Right now,” he said, “it’s only going to get worse.”

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