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San Francisco Cracks Down On Illegal 'Bandit Taxis'

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – On Friday nights in San Francisco, plenty of people are looking for a taxi. As more than 1,500 legitimate, licensed cabs hit the streets, there are also some impostors.

Eric Richoldt and Chris Hayashi with the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency are hunting so-called "bandit taxis." Their job is to make sure you don't get taken for a ride by an impostor, and it doesn't take long to find them.

Just because a cab is yellow, it doesn't mean it's a Yellow Cab, and the bandits are everywhere. San Francisco has launched a new crackdown and SFMTA inspectors find themselves passing handfuls of illegal cabs at a time.

Identifying a bandit can be tricky. The impostors are usually old taxis which have been bought at auction. They have roof lights and taxi color schemes, but they're missing several important markings that identify them as legitimate.

All licensed taxis will say "San Francisco Taxicab" on the back and on the side. They will have a medallion visible from the windshield that matches the large black numbering on the outside of the car. They will also have a sticker which shows they are licensed to work at San Francisco International Airport.

Another sign of a fake cab: phone numbers with no area codes and large dents. Real licensed taxis cannot have dents larger than a foot across or three inches deep.

So why should you avoid getting into a bandit cab? Real taxi drivers have done a few things such as getting insurance, a driver's license; pass some safety training and a background check. No medallion? No guarantees.

Inspector Hayashi said, "Is this the taxi you want to get into, or you want your kid to get in to when you're trying to get home safely?"

Along with criminal backgrounds, inspectors have also seen some funky meters. At least one was rigged to charge double what a real San Francisco taxi would charge.

The crackdown doesn't end with illegal taxis. There are limousines that might not really be limos, and a lot of town cars that don't even bother with having a license plate. It's a little Wild West out on the streets after dark. One group in particular couldn't be happier about seeing the laws enforced: the real taxi drivers.

Medallions are worth a quarter million dollars and licensed taxi drivers often start the night $175 in the hole before they even pick up their first fare. Bandits pay nothing, and scoop up fares all over the city. It's fair to say licensed cab drivers are literally getting robbed by bandits.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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