Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Steer toward taxi safety

From the Kingston Whig-Standard Website


Members of Kingston's taxi commission should browse the Internet and log on to www.taxi-library.org. It's worth their time and trouble, especially after last weekend's close encounter between a cab driver and a pocket knife.

Just hours after the Bob Dylan concert let out at the downtown K-Rock Centre, an intoxicated passenger riding in a Kingston cab pulled out a knife and threatened repeatedly to "poke" the driver. He also made insulting remarks about the driver's mother, but verbal abuse is considered part and parcel of a cabbie's lot.

Nevertheless, the driver was lucky and escaped without injury. So was another cab driver who had a knife pulled on him in the Bath Road and Queen Mary Road area two weeks ago. That incident erupted over a cigarette.

These were two very close calls - and the excuse the commission needs to revisit the issue of taxi safety in Kingston.

The website is a good place to start. Founded in 1999 by a former industry regulator from Winnipeg, the website serves as an information resource for the taxi industry and an online memorial to the 1,821 cab drivers who have been murdered on the job since 1917.

The site is reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. Like that famous stone wall, the website lists every victim of senseless cabbie violence by name. There's also a special section devoted to the Canadian slaughter: 170 cab driver homicides and counting.

A glance at the listings tells us right away that Kingston is better off than many Canadian cities. Miraculously, we have only one entry, but it's still fresh in the hearts and minds of many Kingston residents. David Krick, a 50-year-old Amey's driver, was stabbed to death by a fare he picked up on Father's Day in 2007.

Following Krick's cold-blooded killing, the Kingston taxi commission was under public pressure to review its safety protocols. At the time, Kingston cabs were not required to carry any equipment to protect the drivers; more than a year later they still aren't.

Some cabs have panic buttons that allow drivers to quickly signal an emergency to a dispatcher (the driver involved in Sunday's "poking" activated his emergency button but only after the passenger jumped out of the car). Most cabs are also equipped with GPS systems, which track a car's movement and speed.

After a six-month study, the commission concluded the installation of safety equipment in cabs - such as shields and cameras - should be voluntary. It found little support for mandatory safety equipment in cabs.

But commission chairman Ken Matthews left the door open to revisit taxi safety in six months' time.

That was 11 months ago.

Driving a cab in Canada is no safer than it was when Krick was killed. It's still a risky occupation and more dangerous than policing.

In the wake of Krick's death, the only tangible change made by Kingston's taxi regulators was to make driver education mandatory. That means drivers have to watch a safety video and review a booklet before their license is renewed.

There have been several violent attacks on Kingston cabbies since Krick died. Last weekend's attack was not unusual. The local taxi commission should be doing everything it can to ensure that Kingston continues to occupy only one line on www.taxi-library.org.

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Taxi commission must do more to protect cab drivers


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