Jacquelyn Waters wanted to celebrate her father’s 80th birthday by touring Washington D.C.’s monuments in a white limousine.
“We had people coming from all over,” Waters said. “Idaho, North Carolina, Florida. We wanted it very special. A nice, very fancy limousine.”
But she says this surprise party took a wrong turn when her family found American DC Limousine online.
“We got a special surprise,” she said.
Waters says her family was impressed with the company’s “decades of experience” and “outstanding service,” according to its website. She says she liked how “They had crystal goblets to drink out of.”
As the contract shows, Jacquelyn’s mother booked a three-hour ride in a 12-passenger white stretch limo to drive around D.C.’s famous monuments.
But the family says it got a big limo letdown.
The family showed FOX 5 home video they shot when a worn-out shuttle bus arrived at their doorstep.
“The leather seats were slashed,” Waters said. “One of the windows was completely smashed. The air conditioning wasn’t working. The driver was smoking a cigarette on the shuttle bus as we boarded. He was drenched [with sweat].”
The video shows things really started to heat up. The driver lunges at Jacquelyn’s brother as he shot the home video. Jacquelyn says she calls the police. The driver gets backs on the bus, rolls down the window, spits at the camera and then pulls away.
“We all just stood there with our mouths hanging open,” Waters said. “What do you do?"
Bill Marrow is the Executive Director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission, which licenses shuttle buses and large luxury vehicles. He says, “Any reputable company will make sure that you get the right vehicle. Even if they have to work with another company.”
Marrow says they get dozens of complaints.
“If its one of our carriers, we can suspend or revoke their operating authority,” he said.
The Waters did file a complaint with WMATC and asked American DC Limousine for their $300 back.
But when FOX 5 started digging around, we found American DC Limousine is not listed on WMATC’s website as a licensed carrier. State records show the company is under the name Tanya Ghareeb in Fairfax, Va.
But when FOX 5 arrived at the address, we found a townhouse without any limousines.
Tisha Thompson: “Hi, I’m Tisha Thompson with FOX 5.”
We also found a man who says he lives in the home.
Tisha Thompson: “We’re looking for the Ghareebs.”
The man initially says he is not a Ghareeb. But a few minutes later, he changes his story.
Tisha Thompson: “You’re not the Ghareebs?”
John Ghareeb: “I am John Ghareeb.”
Tisha Thompson: “You are John Ghareeb?”
He then tells us his sister Tanya is out of town.
John Ghareeb: “She has two buses. Two buses.”
Tisha Thompson: “Two buses? Does she have any white limousines? Any white limousines? Like, long white limousines?”
John Ghareeb: “No. No. She only has two buses.”
But FOX 5 found the bus that showed up for the Waters’ party is not one of those two buses. We discovered it actually belongs to another limo company.
In a response to a complaint filed with the state, American DC Limousine says that after “having mechanical problems” with its own vehicle, the company “subcontracted with another transportation carrier.” The company says the “limo bus” is considered an “upgrade” with “leather seating,” a “bar stocked with water and ice” and “AC.” The company also says “the party members became very aggressive with the driver” who “feared for his life.”
American DC Limousine told the Waters that since they refused the bus, no refund was owed.
But after FOX 5 started asking questions, the company changed its tune and returned the $300. WMATC says the company has also contacted the agency to apply for a license.
Marrow says his team does what it can to find bad apples by conducting street enforcement several times a year. But he admits they can’t catch them all.
His best advice? Don’t just surf the web, ask around.
“Talk to people who have rented vehicles or hired vehicles,” said Marrow. “Any company that wants to work in this area has to maintain a good relationship with customers or they won't get any repeat business and they'll go out of business pretty soon."
For the Waters family, a lesson learned that riding in style can sometimes cost you more than you really know.