News / Toronto

Photographer loses thousands of dollars worth of equipment to Toronto mystery cab

As the UberX debate rages, a Toronto photographer may have already fallen victim to a dodgy driver.

Alejandro Santiago could only watch as a taxi drove off with the tools of his trade in mid-October — a few thousand dollars worth of camera equipment left in the trunk.

Since Monday, 31 donations totaling more than $3,500, many of them from Torontonians, have flooded into an Indiegogo campaign, and Santiago now has the cash to replace his camera, lens and other items.

What happened to his gear, though, remains a mystery. And it’s not even clear whether the vehicle that picked him up was actually a cab.

Santiago had just returned from Montreal and got in a car waiting outside the Toronto Coach Terminal. It was 12:30 a.m., rainy and he said the vehicle had all the markings of a cab: A light on the roof and a decal on the side door.

Santiago asked if the driver took credit cards.

“He said he did,” Santiago said. “To me that felt like a legitimate cab.”

He put his luggage and camera equipment in the trunk. But when he got out 10 minutes later, the diver sped away before he could get his luggage — and livelihood.

Santiago filed a police report. He also logged a complaint with the city’s municipal licensing and standards division, which began an investigation.

Municipal standards officer Dmitri Kritsotakis looked at video surveillance at the bus station, which offered no leads.

From the credit card transaction, Santiago discovered he’d been billed the $11 fare by a company called Akrem Taxi — but there is no Akrem Taxi registered as a cab company with the city. Akrem has no online record that Kritsotakis could find.

Santiago’s bank provided one detail: A postal code that leads to a residential building in Scarborough.

“I did go there to talk to the manager of the building,” Kritsotakis said.

She knew nothing of a taxi driver living there, and, in the underground garage, there was no cab that matched Santiago’s description of a silver four-door car, Kritsotakis said.

That leaves Santiago’s case in limbo.

“There was not enough evidence provided to determine whether the vehicle was a cab or not,” said John Decourcy, director of bylaw enforcement at the city.

Kritsotakis said he’s never had a case quite like this, where credit card records lead to a company he couldn't track down. But there are cases of unlicensed or improperly licensed drivers, something he expects will rise with the UberX arrival.

"They’re not licensed cab drives, so that might pose a threat to the safety of security of people getting into their vehicles," Kritsotakis said about the car-sharing service.

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