Friday, November 06, 2009

Fellow driver calls for action

From the Whig-Standard online


More than two years after Shelley Scott desperately tried to breathe life into a dying fellow cab driver, she laments that cabbies continue to face the same hazards.

"The same stuff, over and over again," she said morosely yesterday.

"Something has to be done." Early Wednesday morning, a

veteran Amey's taxi driver was stabbed in the chest by a passenger wielding an X-Acto knife.

According to Amey's owner Mark Greenwood, the passenger reached around from the rear seat and jabbed the 60-year-old driver.

The wounded driver got out of the car and the assailant drove off in the taxi. He ditched the vehicle and was arrested a short time later as police swarmed the area. The cabbie escaped with minor injuries.

The incident is reminiscent, though with a different outcome, of another attack on a cabbie in 2007.

Early on Father's Day morning that year, Amey's driver David Krick picked up a passenger near the YMCA. Minutes later, Krick pressed a silent panic alarm that notified his dispatcher of trouble.

Soon after, he was found lying on a sidewalk on Durham Street, bleeding profusely from stab wounds to the chest. The killer had taken his taxi.

Scott, who was driving a taxi that morning, was one of the first drivers to find Krick after a call for help. Though horrified at the sight of the unconscious, bloody victim, she performed mouth to mouth while a police officer at the scene did chest compressions until paramedics arrived.

Krick, 50, died in hospital. A 31-year-old man was later charged with murder. A preliminary hearing in the case is still underway.

The incident mobilized Scott, among many other drivers, to lobby for safety measures for cabs.

In a decision made in August last year, the body that regulates the area taxi industry ordered all cab owners to install one of three safety devices in every car, within three years, or when the car is replaced, whichever comes first.

The cab owners must install a surveillance camera, a partition between driver and passenger compartment or an external emergency flashing light that can be activated by the cab driver.

Only partitions and cameras have been shown in other cities to improve driver safety. The external flashing light is considered by many experts to be a waste of time, since it is only useful if someone outside the taxi sees the light and calls 911.

"(Safety) needs to be revisited," said Scott.

She notes that the taxi business is stringently regulated to ensure customers are well served. Drivers, for instance, cannot smoke in their cars.

"It's about protecting drivers as much as it is about setting standards for the customers," Scott said.

Taxi driving is the most dangerous legal occupation in Canada, according to Statistics Canada figures.

Between 1995 and 2005, 25 cab drivers were murdered. In that period, 18 police officers were killed on duty.

Thirty-one year veteran driver Roy Ambury, who also writes a weekly magazine about the local taxi business, was robbed five years ago by a backseat passenger who held a knife to his neck.

Ambury escaped with minor injuries.

"The uptake on these (safety measures) has been slow because people don't see it as a problem," said Ambury.

Very few taxis are now equipped with cameras. No one in Kingston has installed a partition, Ambury said.

Only Amey's taxis are equipped with GPS tracking systems tied to the central dispatch. The system allowed police to find David Krick quickly in 2007.

"I'm really thankful that Amey's has the tracking system," said Ambury, who drives for Modern Taxi.

People who work in the business accept that there is a "background level" of problems for drivers, Ambury said.

"That background level is tolerated, dealt with, because otherwise, if everybody reacted to everything in an exaggerated way, then there wouldn't be any cabs on the road," he said.

After Krick's murder, many taxi drivers complained that the people who own cabs aren't concerned about the safety of drivers, but are worried that if they have to raise fares to pay for new gear, it will drive away business.

Timothy McGonegal, 23, is charged with attempted murder, robbery, and dangerous driving in connection to the stabbing Wednesday.

He remains behind bars.

Copyright © 2009 The Whig Standard

No comments: