Saturday, December 29, 2007

'It was an isolated incident'; Cabbie's murder won't result in new safety measures for drivers

From the Kingston Whig-Standard Website:

People who work in the most dangerous occupation in Kingston won't get the protection of any mandatory safety measures. The area's taxi commission, the independent body that oversees the industry, has decided not to order the installation of any safety equipment in Kingston cabs, despite the murder of a veteran cab driver.

"Taxi drivers thought it was an isolated case and I don't think they wanted us to take any action," said Ken Matthews, chairman of the commission.

Kingston cabs are not required to be equipped with any gear to protect drivers. Some cabs have panic buttons that allow drivers to quickly signal an emergency to a dispatcher.

Matthews said the commission might revisit the idea of mandatory equipment within six months.

"There's still a possibility, but right now there wasn't too much interest," he said.

The decision this month follows roughly six months of study by a 12-member committee formed by the commission. The committee included nine people who own and drive taxis. Among the nine were the three owners of the area's largest taxi companies.

The commission endorsed the recommendation of the committee that the installation of safety gear, such as cameras or partitions, should be voluntary.

"We decided that they could put in whatever they wanted to put in," said Matthews.

He said the safety committee concluded that there is little support in the industry for mandatory equipment for all cabs.

Doug Cox, who owns Kingston Amherst Taxi company and chaired the committee, said only 49 of roughly 300 drivers responded to a survey asking what equipment should be installed.

The best response came from owners, who did not believe the Krick murder was a sign of widespread problems, he said.

"That's what a lot of the [owners] felt, it was an isolated incident," Cox said.

Matthews said he was surprised that there wasn't stronger support for mandatory safety measures.

"I think it may be wise to have cameras," he said.

Safety was reviewed after the June 17 murder of cabbie David Krick. Krick was stabbed to death by a passenger he picked up early on Father's Day morning. A federal parolee was later charged with murder.

Matthews acknowledged there was a "hue and cry" immediately after Krick's murder but he said concern waned.

Cab driver Shelley Scott doesn't agree.

"I'm more than disappointed," said Scott. "I don't know what more it will take to make something happen.

"We lost one driver; how many more will it take to make something mandatory?"

Scott was driving the morning Krick was killed and she was one of the first cabbies to respond to his distress call. She found Krick lying on a sidewalk on Durham Street, bleeding profusely.

Scott helped a police officer administer first aid, but Krick was pronounced dead at hospital.

She believes all cabs should have safety equipment.

"I don't know any other job where something like this would happen and something wasn't done," she said.

Between 1995 and 2005, 25 cab drivers were murdered on the job in Canada, making it the deadliest legal occupation, according to Statistics Canada. In the same period, 18 police officers were killed on duty.

Amherst taxi driver Jim Moriarty believes all cabs should have cameras. He calculated that a fivecent fare hike would collect enough in three years to pay for cameras in every taxi.

"It just proves that my life isn't worth a nickel," Moriarty said. "We're going to need another dead body."

He said profit margins for taxi owners are slim and they don't have to make the job safe since drivers are disposable.

"You can be hired and fired in this industry in a heartbeat," he said.

A veteran taxi driver and owner in Toronto who spearheaded a campaign for safety equipment said Kingston drivers deserve mandatory safety measures.

"I think it's absolutely atrocious that they could come back and recommend it be on a voluntary basis," said Gerry Manley, who lobbied Toronto regulators for 13 years before cameras were made mandatory.

Violence against Toronto cabbies has declined substantially since cameras were introduced.

Voluntary safety measures in Kingston won't work, Manley said.

"That's ridiculous because it'll never get done," he said. "There's no taxi owner or operator ... 99.99 per cent of them will never put out five cents for safety equipment to protect their drivers unless they're mandated to do it."

Manley rejects economic arguments, noting that safety equipment is a business expense that can be written off.

Kingston's commission ordered that all cab drivers watch a safety video and review a booklet before renewing their taxi licences.

"The video is a wonderful reminder, but it doesn't address what happens when someone is hell bent on stabbing you," Scott said.

Assaults on Kingston cabbies are not unusual although Krick's murder is believed to be the first slaying of a taxi driver.

Drivers more often face belligerent, drunken and foul-mouthed passengers, including many who try to skip out on their fares.

Moriarty said there have been at least three violent attacks on Kingston cabbies since Krick's murder.