A cabdriver locked the daughter of a D.C. Council member in his car and drove her away from her home after a late-night dispute over an inoperable credit card machine, an incident that the council member said “meets the definition of kidnapping.”
The incident, in which police declined to arrest the driver, occurred in November but only came to light this week at a Taxicab Commission oversight hearing chaired by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Cheh, a professor of criminal law at George Washington University, called her daughter’s story the “most outrageous” of several involving drivers who were not complying with a new law that requires cabs to have working credit card machines.
“I’m just not sure we have a handle on how many drivers are cooperating,” Cheh said.
The commission chairman, Ron M. Linton, said he believes that most drivers are complying, but he said there had been reports of “several instances of that locking-the-door business,” in which drivers illegally demand cash when a credit card machine is not working. In the case of Cheh’s daughter, Linton said, the driver should have been arrested. After a follow-up commission investigation, he said, the driver may yet be suspended.
According to a police report obtained by Cheh, her 26-year-old daughter arrived in a cab at the daughter’s Cleveland Park home in Northwest Washington after midnight early in November. She attempted to pay the fare with two credit cards, and both were declined, according to the report. Then Cheh’s daughter said she would go into her home to get cash to pay the fare, but she also told the driver that she intended to report him to to the Taxicab Commission because the credit card machine “was not working properly.”
At that point, the report says, the driver locked the doors and drove several blocks before calling 911 to report that he had a passenger refusing to pay her fare. Cheh’s daughter, who is also a lawyer, filed a police report in which she alleged that she had been “taken against her will.”
In an interview, Cheh said that she was present later that morning when her daughter met with police and that an officer declined to take action, remarking that the incident may have been a misunderstanding. Cheh said she tried to make a case for an arrest but did not “pull rank” and did not identify herself as a council member. “Luckily, the police didn’t know who I was,” Cheh said.
Cheh said she somewhat regretted airing the issue at a public hearing. “Maybe I shouldn’t have blurted it out, because I don’t necessarily want her to be upset about this again,” Cheh said of her daughter. “She was really, really upset. She’s a young woman, it’s early in the morning, this guy locks the cab and starts driving off, and she’s saying, ‘Stop, let me out.’”
At the hearing, council member David Grosso (I-At Large) brought up an incident in which a driver told his wife that he would take only cash, and Linton said his daughter had had problems. Linton said his daughter came to visit from Boston, took four cab rides “and generated four complaints — it’s unbelievable.”
As news of the November incident circulated online Thursday, Chris Sacca, one of the original investors in Uber, a car service whose transactions are cashless, sent out a Twitter message that took advantage of the bad press for traditional taxi service. “Don’t get kidnapped. Use @Uber,” he wrote.
Cheh said the larger point is that the city needs a way to determine how many drivers are still not complying with the credit card requirement. “There are so many instances that I hear from others and family members where they just give up” and pay with cash, she said.
Linton said the commission recommends that the rider ask the driver right after getting into the cab whether the credit card machine is working. If not, he said, the passenger should get out and hail another cab. If a dispute occurs at the end of the ride, pay the fare in cash, if you can, Linton said, but take down the number of the cab and report it to the commission. “We’ll get your money back,” he said.