In Bogotá, security is an important aspect of daily life, and one of the most notorious methods of robbery known as ‘paseo millonario,’ involves pirate taxis orchestrating a route, which under the best of circumstances results in armed robbery.
The most common times for a ‘paseo milionario’ are early mornings and evenings when cabs can make a quick getaway by avoiding the midday traffic. The north of Bogotá is fertile hunting ground for criminals working a bad trip. Grabbing just any cab off the street is one of the big risk factors, especially if alone and under the influence of alcohol.
Common tactics to be taken as warning signs are claims of mechanical difficulty, a flat tire, need to pick up a package or stop to make a phone call. Once the taxi driver decides to take a route unknown, two or more persons will enter on either side of the victim in the back seat.
Many cases involve a cohort hidden in the leg area of the front passenger seat. Either way, once cornered, the assailants intimidate the victim with a knife or gun and search for belongings, robbing any valuable items such as jewelry, a watch, cell phones, and of course, wallets.
Often, the criminals will demand the victim hand over passwords to debit cards and credit cards and disclose personal information. The taxi will then drive to an ATM and one of the assailants will take out cash using the cards, while the victim is held inside the cab. The driver then proceeds to take the victim to a solitary, dark section and the cab takes off.
If you should suspect something worrisome within minutes of taking a cab, the most important advice is to stay calm. When a potential victim gets angry, restless and aggressive, they can be harmed. Such was the case of 36-year-old Russian Vitaly Shubinsky, whose body was found in the south of Bogotá in July 2012, after he took a cab from the 93 Park.
Even passengers arriving on flights into the new El Dorado Airport should be very cautious only to take licensed cabs, even if the lines are long at the taxi dispatch. While El Dorado has CCTV, the best guarantee for a safe ride is to wait curbside in the official line.
Once dropped off without money and a phone, your best option is to seek help in the area from any businesses that may be open to lend you a phone, or if you are lucky enough to be near a police command post or C.A.I., ask for help immediately. You can determine the location of a C.A.I. by calling 113 or request help from Emergency Services calling 123. Be sure to write down or memorize the address of the drop off point in case there are security cameras in the area, which can then help authorities detect a pirate cab’s plates.
Some essential tips to avoid falling victim to a “paseo millonario” include:
Always call a recognized taxi service and verify the license plate number (on the roof and doors) with the one given over the phone. Even though the radio network is closed to non-affiliates, many pirate cabs hack into the system and can arrive at your home or office before the designated cab, pretending they are your ride. Only enter the cab with the license plate given. If your official cab never appears, call for a new one at the same number. Cabs who confirm yet don’t turn up within the 5 to 10 minute allowance, face a fine by the cab company.
There is also a password (the last two digits of the phone you dialed from). The cab must punch in or announce them over the closed radio network before driving off.
If for any reason you cannot call for a cab, walk to a nearby hotel and take a white official taxi. More expensive than yellow ones, it’s a matter of safety over budget. If you are willing to spend $20,000 pesos on a drink, you can afford to pay the same price for a safe trip home.
If you absolutely must hail a taxi off the street, never enter a parked one. Always hail one that’s moving or check to see if someone just stepped out and is in the process of paying. Never get into a cab with another person in the front seat. Often drivers take family members on errands, and are willing to pick up passengers. Even if the driver insists that the person up front is a spouse, don’t risk it. Many assailants in these ‘paseos’ are women.
Verify that the vehicle is clean inside and the exterior washed. All drivers with registered companies are obligated to wash their cars after a long shift.
Quickly check that the Movil Number on the outside of the vehicle matches the number on the plastic film on the passenger window. Front passenger seat must be clear of all objects. Front passenger seat must be upright with the price board showing.
Make sure door locks have not been tampered with or otherwise damaged. Door locks that have been cut in half may prevent you from exiting. Identify that the taxi tariff and identification card shows the driver’s photograph, name and the license plate number. Text message a friend or family member with the license plate number as a precaution if you’re unsure, and if you are leaving as a group, have one of your companions record the license plate number (and that the driver is aware of this) and agree to call you when they arrive. Honest cab drivers understand these precautions, as a ‘paseo milionario’ damages the reputation of those who are legitimate.
All this may seem a lot to take in at a glance, but one can never be too cautious. Cabs are an investment for many households in the city. New cabs are costly to maintain and pay for in a country with high interest rates. Cab owners do not want their vehicles involved in criminal cases. An incident in a cab means the car is taken out of service, sent to the pound, and a case opened with the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalia) and the City’s Forensic Office (Medicina Legal), even if the person is unharmed. Any case involving an assault, is referred to Medicina Legal.
Whenever possible, suggest a route. It can be helpful to make a comment that you are heading to a business meeting and people are waiting for you. If you suspect that your driver is changing a route and refuses to explain his motives, find a way to get out of the cab quickly at a red light. Then deal with the situation outside the confines of the vehicle. Legitimate cab drivers will come to your assistance if they see something is wrong with a passenger.
One practice is to adopt a “going out” wallet when there’s a chance of taking a taxi off the street, especially at night. Leave your Cédula de Extranjería and passport at home. You can always keep a photocopy on you and explain to the police that this is a precautionary measure with a paseo millonario.
Have a small card wallet with enough cash for the night and at least $10,000 pesos in small bills. Use other ID to replace the Cédula. If identification is required, a foreign driving license is acceptable if there is a photograph. Chose your card of choice. A local banking card with low withdrawal limits is always useful. Losing one international credit card and contesting charges is easier than replacing five.
Contact authorities to report cab crimes. Remember to write down and surrender as many details as you can: a description of the addresses, the license plate, physical traits of the assailants and a description of the vehicle.
So play safe. Get to know your cabs. Understand the city. Ignorance should not lead to danger and impunity.