I don’t often take taxis anymore, but I hopped into the taxi line at the Aria in Las Vegas during CES last week for what I figured would be a faster way to get a ride back to my hotel. I didn’t think about being a woman alone at night in a car with a strange, untraceable cab driver — that was a mistake.
I decided to leave my group early and get some shut-eye for an early day the next day so I got into a dirty cab alone with a guy who decided to abuse his power as a driver that night, ignoring my need to feel safe in his car.
My cab driver began the ride silently (fine by me) but then started asking me the usual about where I’m from and what brought me to town. I told him I was a reporter, here for CES. He asked me how long I was in town for. I said Saturday. He then asked me if I was staying here alone. That was my first inkling this guy might be dangerous.
I told him I was here with my work crew and emphasized they would be at the hotel waiting for me, just to make sure he knew others would miss me. He went back to talking about Vegas and I brushed my worry off as paranoia.
Cab guy then went back to asking if I was alone and added in a question about whether or not I was single. I’m paired to a wonderful guy but would have told him I had a boyfriend anyway.
Then I was asked if I’d like to go hang out right now. My heart started to race, my breaths shortened and I suddenly realized I had no idea where I was in the jungle of Vegas, with a cab driver unattached to an app I could easily trace back to information about him, should something go wrong.
“No, I have a boyfriend,” I reiterated, thinking to myself I shouldn’t have to justify my unwillingness to hang out based on whether or not I have a man in my life. But a guy like this one doesn’t care what you want, anyway.
He laughed and asked me again. This was a joke to him. Maybe he simply didn’t understand how inappropriate it was to ask out a passenger.
I looked out the window at that moment to a scene I remembered was close to my hotel. But then we took a different turn than I’d remembered from the other night. I asked the cab driver about this and he told me it was a shortcut.
He continued to chat with me, this time about his love of soccer and how his girlfriend didn’t appreciate him. I didn’t point out he’d just asked me to hang out. I didn’t want to bring that topic in again. I also had no app in front of me to show the correct route like I would with Uber and Lyft, so I quickly fired up Google Maps on my phone to check. We were not going the right way.
Was he doing that on purpose? Was he confused? All I knew was I could be in trouble. I corrected him and started to command turn-by-turn directions so he couldn’t veer off again. I was lucky he listened.
Finally at my destination, in front of the Marriott Residence Inn, I paid the man and then tried to open the passenger door to let myself out. It turned out I was in one of those vans that rely on the driver to push a button to open the side door for you. Panic again.
My driver hopped out instead of simply pushing the button, insisting on physically opening the door for me. “What was your name?” he asked. I lied. He then said he hoped to see me again as I quickly walked away from him, thankful to be free.
Should I report the guy? I didn’t have an app to alert anyone right away, but I could call the cab company, right? I thought to turn back and memorize the license plate…but where was the license plate? I couldn’t find it!
The driver noticed and got a look on his face. He knew what I was looking for and asked if something was wrong. I couldn’t find his license on the back of his van. Was it there and I was just too panicked to notice? It wasn’t in the usual spot.
Really anyone can pretend to be a cab driver for a night and get into a taxi line. There’s no way to track the driver like you can on a ride sharing platform.
I told him nothing was wrong and walked inside. I just wanted to get away at that point.
Was I overreacting? Did I make up this situation in my head?
I was scared and frustrated I had to think about things a man alone on the town wouldn’t have to think about. I had so trustingly lined up and gotten in a random cab.
There was no way of easily warning another lone woman who might also take a ride with that guy that night, or that week, or ever. No way to complain about inappropriate advances. There was no app for that and no way to trace him if he didn’t deliver me back to my hotel, either. He was just a random cab driver in a taxi line and no one thought anything of it.
Regulators should take note of this experience and for the good of public safety, allow Uber and Lyft, not taxis, to utilize the ride lines, instead. This is not about fairness to drivers. You can track rideshare drivers using technology and complain about the bad ones on these platforms. You can’t do that with cabs.
Taxi lobbyists have taken a very active role against ridesharing, spending large amounts to ensure legislation favors the incumbent service. They would likely take issue with my proposal.
However, this isn’t about what’s fair to cab drivers. This is a safety issue.
The argument the taxi lobby gives against ridesharing is taxi drivers have thousands of driving hours under their belt and know the city they are driving in well. That’s true for many, if not most, but my driver seemed confused on how to get to my hotel. There are plenty of anecdotes out there of cabbies taking the long way or going another route just for a higher fare, too. Unlike with ridesharing, those drivers get away with it.
The other argument is that taxi drivers have gone through the requisite licensing and paid their dues to operate as drivers and that Lyft and Uber unfairly displace these drivers.
That is tough for taxi drivers. But the taxi lobby’s aim is to protect its turf. Given my recent experience, my safety is not the primary concern. The taxi industry needs to see that times are changing and people want to use ridesharing because it is a better, safer service that benefits the rider.
Regulators have relaxed a bit in Sin City. Lyft and Uber were able to operate legally there starting late last year. Progress!
But there’s still improvements to be made. It wasn’t as convenient to use Lyft and Uber the rest of my time in Vegas. The taxi line was easier to find and much faster to catch a ride there, but I decided, after my experience, it was the safer option to call up Lyft or Uber (whichever looked like it would be faster). I just wish regulators saw it the same way as a woman traveling alone at night in Vegas, or any other city, might.