TORONTO (PRESENT) - With New Year's parties in full swing to cap off the holiday season, some revelers are finding themselves with a chariot that's turned into a pumpkin before the stroke of midnight.
At this time of year especially, suburbanites find themselves facing the problem of getting to and from their evening's engagements. Party goers wanting to have a good time but not wanting to drink and drive find themselves facing a predicament, with the great distance they must travel and the severe shortage of taxis. In response, police have seen a surge of unlicensed one-night-only taxi services catering to these fun-loving suburbanites.
"Look: there's a number of young folks who maybe have a higher sense of responsibility and they're choosing not to get behind the wheel. Good for 'em," said CNC operator Mario LaSconni, a long-time Woodbridge resident. "Last year my boy's down on Richmond [Street] there enjoying himself with some buddies, leaves the club around 2, and doesn't get a cab until 5 AM! I kid you not. I nearly hadda pick him up myself if I hadn't hit the bottle so early."
In response, Mr. LaSconni phoned a nephew who he knew was coordinating a ring of these illegal taxis, and had him send a van down to pick up his son.
"As it turned out, my boy, enterprising as he is, started finding passengers all out on the street tryin' to find their own ways home. In the end my nephew Jackie had his Ford Econoline filled with 19 people, and the ride didn't cost my son a penny. Sonofa[expletive deleted]! I kid you not - he turned a profit!"
Stories like this abound and other enterprising individuals require nothing more than a vehicle to begin operating on this highly lucrative night. Services including Ride2KYYZ, Pickerup, and GetchaThurr are marketing themselves quite openly using social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. Now that Toronto Police have begun to crack down on these services, this could run a risk for travelers who've already made bookings. One Twitter ad read:
Get 2 DT TO 4 cheap on #NewYear #2014. RT #pickmeup and # of passengers (not a hashtag). $25/head. Go #cray #arrivealive #yolo @z1035Toronto @TheDrakeHotel
Although police are grateful for the reduction of intoxicated drivers on the roads, these rogue taxi services are less than popular with local authorities. "Quite frankly, it's a concern on several fronts," said Toronto Chief of Police, Bill Blair. "First of all, these jitneys, for lack of a better word, are unlicensed. If they collide with a truck or drive off a bridge, then what? Beyond that, we've had reports of drivers illegally selling cigars and passengers engaging in everything from prostitution to cock fighting. And just last year a young man from Mississauga thought it would be a thrill to climb up atop the roof without his shirt on. The jitney stopped at a McDonald's drive thru with the inebriated individual still dancing on top, and he was clotheslined by the height restriction bar."
Indeed, the man was found lying on the asphalt of the McDonald's drive thru when the next car pulled forward. The driver of that vehicle spent the night in jail and had his license suspended for having a blood alcohol level nearly of 0.15, nearly double the legal limit. This was discovered upon the arrival of paramedics and police to the accident scene, with the jitney nowhere to be found.
"And of course the other problem is there's no accountability," added Blair. "That young man suffered a severe concussion that evening, and the jitney driver didn't have the faintest idea he'd lost a passenger. Can't say I'm surprised, mind you, with the loud 'techno' music they supposedly play."
As it turns out, it's quite difficult to crack down on these renegade transporters, as the proprietors of the vehicles are incredibly cunning. The impounded @RideMeDown van, caught in the earliest hours of 2013, raised initial police suspicion due to its Mexican license plates and its copious exhaust of burning oil. The vehicle was disguised as a farm truck with bales of hay, yet could seat up to 35 people on its interior benches. The truck was previously being used to shuttle illegal immigrants across the border from Reynosa, Mexico, to Mission, Texas. Peasant-farmer-turned-person-smuggler Eduardo Loya de Jesús Esparragoza Méndez announced in his testimony that a cousin had informed him he could make six months' salary in one night, with a fraction of the risk.
Indeed, had his smuggling operation been seized on the Mexican border he could have faced execution, yet as it happened with him having been caught on Toronto's Dufferin Street near the 401, he spent the evening in jail and was released the following morning.
Police ask that any suspicious behaviour - such as a crowd of well-dressed party goers climbing out of the hood of a truck, or hay stuck in someone's hair at a posh downtown club - be reported by calling Crimestoppers at 222-TIPS, or by tweeting #NYEjitney along with an identifiable location.