The Conference is a vibrant circle of drivers who have come together across political lines, company lines, and racial lines to help each other. We are dedicated to increasing public awareness, educating drivers, and improving the unacceptable conditions under which we are working.
Although we have suffered, and continue to, we do not subscribe to the greedy, contemptuous & brutal attitudes of those who exploit & coerce us.
Yet neither do we stand for submission, compliance, ignorance, fear, apathy, deference or despair - all insidious enemies of the driver and the compulsions by which we have been used and disregarded for far too long.
We challenge this system that attacks our dignity, our families, and our fundamental freedoms.
We no longer bend to the weight of injustice but reject & resist those forces of greed, contempt & indifference until the system itself must bend or break.
In response to the City's Task Force on Taxi Safety we have prepared the following report describing the general situation drivers face. This includes specific, categorized examples of inter-related economic, political, social and criminal dynamics. We have thus outlined nine basic categories of underlying violent "supports" which reenforce unsafe working conditions for all drivers, and which contribute to violent physical attacks.
We have also provided a comprehensive list of 19 Task Oriented Recommendations relative to Driver Safety, the last one, unique among them, being the establishment of a Driver Support Centre, self-administered, to address ongoing needs & issues of drivers as we ourselves define them and choose to approach them.
Each new step forward reminds us of our common humanity, and inspires us,
Indeed, it is this indomitable spirit alive in our circle that ensures our success, and accompanies us towards the dignity we struggle for.
For decades the integrity of this industry in every facet has been breaking down, resulting in the cancerous spread of apathy, avarice and antagonism. Truly we drivers face violence in a multitude of ways and the patrons who act out their aggression are but unwitting agents of a much larger, systematic violation of our integrity.
Itís true that, male & female alike, we all face increasing possibilities of assault & robbery anytime, especially on weekends and at night. As much as we would like to believe in an idyllic community, we do not live in small town rural Ontario anymore.
Some taxi drivers in London have already been severely beaten, stabbed, shot, and even murdered at their jobs in living memory. And there are always several driversí distress calls to respond to during any given week.
Most of these incidents donít make it to the local paper. Perhaps the press do not always request police reports. Perhaps drivers have managed to resolve a situation themselves without involving the police. Perhaps such events are more newsworthy only if injury has resulted. Yet drivers themselves are acutely aware that their person or their vehicle may be the next target, newsworthy or not.
It is important to note, under these circumstances, that we feel the highest regard for the abilities & responsiveness of City Police officers in the dangerous situations we call them to. There are many drivers, under many circumstances, who have had ample cause for gratitude toward officers for their assistance and ongoing concern. But Police cannot be everywhere at once nor should we expect them to be, and despite their diligence this problem continues to grow.
The violence continues to grow precisely because it is not really a problem of policing; it is a community-based problem mostly relating to values and standards of acceptable behaviour.
An example is the frequent belligerence and aggressive behaviour of young male university students when they are drunk. We donít accept that being drunk is a license to abuse, nor do we accept anymore that such behaviours are a "normal, acceptable" part of coming of age. When we see trash cans & post boxes purposely thrown into the path of auto traffic we are concerned. When we experience bottles, ice & snowballs hurled at passing taxis; when we experience fists pummeling our flesh, and expensive damage to our vehicles resulting from kicks and bottles thrown in tantrum-like behaviour we must take a more serious, measured approach.
To use a fitting analogy, when a child in a family similarly misbehaves a valid conclusion is that the child lacks discipline, structure, respect & consequences for behaving destructively. Maybe we are witnessing the inevitable results of such unresolved family problems projected onto our community when that youth obtains some adult independence.
However we try to understand this, though, when such behaviour spills over into our community space and onto the lives of innocent bystanders then we are all, as citizens, called upon to respond firmly and responsibly to safeguard the values of the community and its residents. The question is not "shall we do something?" The question is "when shall we do it?"
The Police, with all due respect, cannot play a leading role in this context for they are best equipped to respond to the symptoms. When we see violent behaviour occumng we are seeing the tension that rises, bursting through the still surface of the water. The cause has more to do with how the community condones, ignores, or censors the attitudes which encourage disrespectful and violent behaviour (i.e. how is it being reinforced?).
This is why the blight of violence in our workplace cannot be solved simply by authoritative statements from managers or by celebrated attention from study groups, however well-intentioned they may be. Those are people mostly removed from the circumstances which we as drivers endure and a proper examination of this problem must be informed (and steered) by the taxi drivers themselves. We are the ones most directly affected and we are the ones intimately acquainted with all the relevant circumstances.
Therefore this situation cannot be resolved by narrowly focussing on incidents alone as though the disease resides in particular events. This issue is actually about a systemic problem and the entire SYSTEM of violence-supporting conditions must be clearly understood and honestly addressed before drivers (and the public) are safer. This takes much work but it is the reality we are facing. Unless City Councilors commit to this broader task the tensions pervading this industry can only worsen. Let's be clear that Councilors bear some responsibility for what unfolds before and after the Task Force recommends changes.
The system we are dealing with here is a multi-headed beast, best described as violent in nature. Yet we must be careful in using such a convenient label for we risk stereotyping, oversimplifying, and losing perspective on the entire situation. nothing exists in a vacuum and true to natural law there are nuances and interdependent facets to the suffering which drivers are experiencing. All of it is violent to some extent, but first letís expand our understanding of such violence, or violations. This should include some insight into the motivators of the system and its consequent trajectory. Only then can we expect to redirect and rehabilitate it with any degree of success. Otherwise it will continue to lumber along like a sick, ravenous beast that causes distress, destruction & chaos within our civil domain.
We have dissected this beast for you on paper, organizing its attributes into nine major categories. We hope that our descriptions are clear, thorough and logical enough for you to easily understand them; we aim for precision.
Policies at the company & political levels often reflect a lack of understanding & lack of respect for our drivers of non-Anglo/European backgrounds. Cultural biases are built into driver tests at both municipal and company levels and a punitive, ostracizing approach is often taken towards immigrant drivers who have difficulty mastering local cultural & linguistic nuances in the workplace.
Underscoring this is the absence of any professional or cultural support program for those still needing to expand their skills. Successful programs of that type are often professionally sponsored, peer-administered, & officially endorsed providing drivers with new opportunities for competence, camaraderie & dignity.
In direct contrast to the proactive ideal the system we work under encourages more experienced drivers to hoard their knowledge and refrain from constructive or even humanitarian interventions. Knowledge that could improve the comfort & functioning level of new drivers (immigrant & nonimmigrant), improve customer service, improve safety, and reduce personnel problems is jealously guarded by those who are most competent.
Often these are established car and/or license owners; a core of company loyalists who most frequently fill the positions of company cops and Taxi Liaison Sub-committee members. They are an old guard which re-enforce the traditionally conservative status quo instead of properly serving as a resource for fellow workers in need. For this relatively small but influential clique of loyalist drivers there are often benefits in supporting the existing power structure.
After driving a taxicab in London for even two or three years, interacting with thousands of people, any observant, unbiased person would be forced to agree that a subtle yet tenacious xenophobia is at the root of all this.
There is also the matter of outright racism.
From the attitude of company managers, to that of veteran drivers, to that of some City Clerk's staff, to that of some passengers racism permeates our work environment.
Words like "nigger" and comments expressing relief about "having a white driver" are commonplace. There is a noticeable delay by some white drivers in responding to the distress calls of immigrant drivers in trouble, and drivers parked at certain taxi stands very often segregate into two racial groupings. There are rumours, even, that a new taxi company is being established to cater to segregationist values.
We experience these non-physical forms of aggression and resentment as attacks upon our dignity.
Very frequently even educated, affluent people will relate to a driver as though he/she were their personal chattel for the duration of the ride. Many patrons seem to believe that their fare-price includes the right to relate to the driver in any derogatory manner whatsoever. Insults, sarcasm, vulgar language, unwanted sexual innuendo, and threats of non-payment or robbery occur far too often.
We also find this attitude of entitlement expressed in the language of the Taxi By-law, No. L-120-174 (section 6). Item (1), clause (a) states that each driver shall:
"unless his taxicab has been previously engaged, serve at any place within the City and at any specified time, whether by day or night, any person who may lawfully require his taxicab;"
This very passage has been quoted by clever but abusive customers who try to coerce a driver into aquiescence, based upon threats of official repercussions.
This may appear trivial but it is especially intimidating to immigrant drivers who may not yet confidently interpret their human rights in relation to legal obligations and moral proprieties. And the fact is that this type of law regards us all as bondservants which we cannot accept.
In many situations of abuse a passenger has engaged our services, apparently in a lawful manner, and proceeded to intimidate or assault a driver partway through the ride. Many of these dangerous situations can be avoided if drivers are officially supported and encouraged to exercise their own free will & good judgement. We should not be facing punishment, either from the company or the Municipality, for refusing a customer.
The same attitude of entitlement is expressed by company officials (office staff, road chiefs, dispatchers) who frequently make insulting, taunting, racial, and otherwise caustic remarks to drivers, in person and over the two-way radio system. Words like "moron", "idiot", and "foreigner" are commonly used, along with persistently antagonistic tones.
At U Need A Cab, for example, all passengers can clearly overhear this vexatious language. Surely this verbal abuse is offensive to our many respectable passengers and is not appropriate listening either for young children, who also ride in taxis.
Perhaps most ominous is that abusive, potentially violent passengers can only be encouraged by this style of relating to drivers that they see is commonplace.
Both companies make unethical, arbitrary demands of drivers & take disproportional profits from them because under the present system drivers are often forced to depend on monopolized company dispatch services, and monopolized licenses (plates) as well.
A driver can be suspended for 24 or 48 hours simply for having a muddy car, or wearing sandals without socks. As if this treatment of a self-employed person were not questionable enough, the company also assumes the authority to restrict the car & driver (licensed by the City) from taking any passenger whomsoever, independently of the dispatch service, under threat of further suspension. As we understand it only the City has the power to restrict or revoke operating privileges and it is crucial to drivers and to the general public that this violation of Civic jurisdictional authority be addressed. Otherwise drivers continue to be held hostage to arbitrary, authoritarian demands in the workplace. We remain in a generally vulnerable, insecure state, while the authority of the City is undermined.
The City business licenses (represented by metal "plates") which permit an owner/operator to keep a car for hire are often not used at all by the owner but more commonly, are being leased out on a monthly basis or sold outright.
This is another example of blatant disregard for Civic jurisdictional authority by license owners, the largest franchisees among them being company owners themselves. In a very real sense the City Clerkís office merely acts now as a wholesaler of licenses and allows the owners of multiple plates to take over the actual licensing of operators in the workplace, through their monopoly over the distribution of such plates.
There have been no contractual bids from multiple license owners to perform this function legally, nor any returns given by them to the City for this informal but lucrative privilege. And the privilege is lucrative, to the tune of $6,000 annually for the lease of one business license, or about $25,000 outright for the purchase of one, although the City may expect only a few hundred dollars each for renewal or purchase of licenses.
This situation serves to undermine ethics and legitimate values within the Civic institution and to generate public concern about our City Clerkís ability to regulate this industry in a judicious manner.
Yet again, in this process, the average driver is left in a general state of dependency and vulnerability. He/She is systematically devalued therein as much as by any abusive passenger.
Overall, this constant mean spirited barrage against accessible free enterprise erodes driversí self-esteem & confidence, and is an incessant and unwarranted attack itself. This makes it all the more difficult for drivers in dangerous situations to concentrate sufficient emotional & psychological resources upon necessary critical responses.
Oursí, you see, is not a safe & secure work environment to begin with even before a driver is ever physically assaulted.
Although City Council (via ETC) maintains a dialog with a "Taxi Liaison Sub-committee" regarding taxi industry issues the City Clerkís office does not routinely inform newly licensed drivers that this committee exists. Nor are the meetings publicized in any effective way by company owners (who are standing members) or by other Sub-committee members.
Its activities are some of the best kept secrets in town, and thus driver and citizen participation is subtly but effectively discouraged. As a result of this long-standing negligence many of Londonís taxi drivers arenít even aware of this Sub-committee. Among those who know of it almost all do not know who the standing members are, apart from the company owners. They do not know, either, that there are (at least in a token manner) driver "representatives" on this committee.
Furthermore, self-educated drivers who actively seek involvement with this committee are not permitted to elect representatives from among their own members - an opportunity which license owner representatives have exercised for years. Instead, City Controllers appoint driver "representatives" according to some official criteria of their own, while conversely they grant seats automatically to the presidents of each of the two taxi companies. These are practices which subvert democracy and destroy political credibility. Not only do these practices subvert the principles of democracy but they effectively deny all of Londonís 1,000 plus taxi drivers a legitimate political voice in decisions which directly affect their well being.
Drivers are bitterly resentful that to petition for justice they are, incredibly, referred to the very power brokers who exploit & coerce them daily. Not only are their concerns disregarded, but to voice them at all in front of the Subcommittee puts a driver at risk. Traditionally he is then harassed, fired, or blacklisted as has happened to many other drivers critical of this system.
The present regulatory system which limits the number of available taxi licenses is supposed to protect each cab operator from overwhelming competition. If this is the spirit of the law then it has been shamefully perverted by bureaucrats & profiteers through the years so as to be unrecognizable now and absolutely ineffective as a protective measure.
A taxi business license is no different in principle than any other business license - a bookstore, a restaurant, a convenience store license. Yet public policy has allowed individuals to buy & sell these licenses so freely (at huge profits) as to create a commodity trading market of them.
Instead of symbolizing an individualís freedom to earn a living with his cab, these licenses now symbolize the ability of multiple license holders to lord the power of monopoly over other non-franchised drivers who require such a license to operate their taxi.
Economic exploitation is an integral component in this process now, where the lessee or purchaser of a plate is charged an exorbitant fee ($6,000 per annum or $25,000 clear title) and then must pass some of this cost on to his shift-driver who leases the vehicle/license as a package. If he does not do so and works his car by himself he often works 80 hours plus each week to meet the demands of plate-lease and company concession fees.
Thus, drivers & lease-plate operators alike, are forced into the position of working 60 to 80 hours a week for subsistence level wages, exhausted and exposed to unnecessary dangers. All this to keep a few multiple plate owners, who provide neither product nor service, comfortably idle at home. Home need not even be in London, and there are a number of non-working license owners who reside in other cities or even other countries.
Not only have the business licenses been turned into a traded commodity but City Clerkís office has actually helped to create this monopoly of multiple license holders through its own policies and practices.
City Clerk maintains two waiting lists for those who wish to receive licenses - one list for drivers who have never owned a plate, and one list for current owners who wish to accumulate more. When new licenses are issued the numbers are allocated in an "equal" division to the first members on each list. In this way the already privileged multiple license owners grow more influential while those still waiting for first time ownership take a back seat. City Clerk continues to endorse this sham, having issued sir of the Iast 10 licenses to established pLate owners. In fact, some license owners have pointedly "jumped the queue" when more licenses are issued by listing themselves two or three times on the same list using different names and unidentified numbered companies (i.e. John Smith; Smith Enterprises Ltd.; Ontario 123465).
A person only needs one business license to earn their living driving a taxi. and almost 1000 drivers would be grateful for just that one. As it is, a full 77% of 333 licenses are now concentrated in the hands of less than 45 families, with Aboutown proprietors monopolizing most of these.
There is also the question of how many taxicabs can be sustained in this city by a limited number of patrons.
The "population ratio" formula used by City Clerk to estimate the required number of new licenses to be issued simply marginalizes the drivers to the point of poverty and desperation.
One new license issued for each population increase of 1030 people.
When one new license is issued for each jump in the population it is assumed by City Clerk without any factual support that all of these new residents will require taxi service.
This also assumes that there is currently enough business to support the existing number of taxi drivers sufficiently. Also without any factual reality.
This formula does not take into account the fact that new residents of London may already own a vehicle, may patronize public transit, may choose a pedestrian lifestyle, or may even be newborn infants who could not possibly hire taxicabs. Neither does this formula take into account dramatic fluctuations in business volume levels as brought about with the change of seasons, and with recessions such as the one we are still experiencing.
This formula is a crooked or lazy-man's version of administrative criteria and is neither reasonable nor reasonably flexible.
During Annexation when the geographic inclusion of Lambeth & Hyde Park translated into a technical increase in local population there were more taxi licenses issued (meaning tougher competition on a daily basis). This, notwithstanding that Lambeth and Hyde Park areas which were already being routinely & sufficiently serviced by the existing number of London taxis.
As a direct result of this blind bureaucratic methodology the amount of money that each driver can earn each day has been diminished. This, despite already maximum work weeks of up to 80 hours, and despite an already near marginaI existence financially. Hundreds upon hundreds of London families who depend on taxi business earnings are being left hungry and impoverished.
This disaster is not an act of God for which no one is accountable; this has been created as a matter of public policy.
During the past four years, for example, we have experienced a drop in income of about 40 to 50% and this coincides with the issuing of new cab licenses during the same period. During the past 24 months alone there have been approximately 18 new licenses issued - outrageous, given a driver's mean income.
During this same four years that brought about such a drop in business, management moved to phase out traditional drivers' commission arrangements (60/40 splits). Now we are required to pay top dollar, flat rate lease fees whether business for us is poor or profitable. Multiple license holders, well aware that business is dramatically decreased, have done nothing but consolidate their own interests at the expense of the majority of workers.
Thus, "our own" Sub-committee (steered by the multi-plate owners) continues to endorse the issuing of new licenses, seemingly ad infinitum. It is notable that under the present dispatch monopolies each working license fetches about $300 monthly in dispatch fees for a company owner. So no matter who are issued the licenses in this already saturated market it is in the best interests of the company owners to endorse further issuings. One more working license means $300 more per month for the man who owns the company, no matter how detrimental this is to the men and women driving, who are struggling ever more desperately for ever declining wages because of this.
The present manner of "regulating" licenses has not improved service to customers but simply created a dangerously competitive situation. Drivers are forced to cut corners (literally), rushing to try and secure grocery money, and customer satisfaction is then often a luxury which the driver may not afford.
An overview of this licensing situation raises many serious allegations which can be more effectively investigated using more formal methods.
These structural barriers to democratic participation & free enterprise, so pervasive & long-standing, are built upon conflicts of interest which are now an integral functioning of this unhealthy system. In essence it is a system which works efficiently to exploit and intimidate drivers, leaving them at risk in a number of ways and without sufficient personal resources to maintain a safe & healthy lifestyle.
Thus, a general attitude of disrespect & usury has been cultivated towards drivers by the very institutions (both corporate & civic) responsible for governing our workers and their livelihood. This system has proven to be violent towards our basic human rights, democratic freedoms, and community & family centered values. These are not abstract ideas - they are reality.
Only incidentally does this system of economic dictatorship manage to provide the public with a service that is "fair to middling" and declining still.
When our national leaders look towards underdeveloped countries like China and Mexico we accept as fact that economic development & human rights go hand in hand: without increasing living standards there can be no secure advance in democracy, and without democratic freedoms there can be no secure increase in prosperity.
How can any of us involved imagine that such realities do not apply to our own socio-economic relationships here in London? Drivers are kept impoverished, demeaned 8c at risk by one and the same SYSTEM. It is a system with many inter-related facets. And though each facet may take a unique form, the complimentary nature of these create a system, and the violence nature of each facet differs only in degree and not in quality.
Is there anything about this system of taxi operations which we do not consider violent? The truth is that there is not much in this system that is non-violent. This, despite our preference, we know as reality and it is a conclusion drawn over a period of years by the cumulative experience of many drivers.
What IS non-violent here is the growing consciousness of taxi drivers in this industry who are determined to struggle for a greater dignity, security and prosperity - such as has been enjoyed by most people outside of third world countries for many years now.
The recent attack, before Christmas, by a U Need A driver on his company's office is not a situation which we can condone. And at the same time almost every last driver consulted would admit, sadly, their surprise that something like this or worse has not occurred before now under the persistent system of exploitation & repression that has been institutionalized.
That incident is the violent acting out of one driver's aggressive impulses who acted alone and independently.
But it is also a visible symptom of the tensions created in the lives of hundreds of drivers by the system of exploitation & violence so pervasively & invasively imposed upon all of us and our families.
We, as a group, are committed to a non-violent approach.
We are also apprehensive, for tensions are reaching intolerable levels and will become worse during the economic slump of summer. There are still many bitterly resentful drivers and stubborn company loyalists, polarizing outside of our more moderate influence. And we fear the worst may yet occur if committed steps are not taken by Councilors to intervene and swiftly dismantle the sweatshop conditions and stamp out the predatory practices of multiple-license owners once and for all.
Probably the most cost effective, versatile & reliable method of increasing personal safety.
These can be carried on the driverís person everywhere he goes and in times of danger the press of a button can immediately bring him into contact with the dispatch office or police. This technology is widely available today and affordable and is effectively unrivaled as an emergency communication device.
Several direct customer requests per month would actually pay for this tool, or even as a strictly standby emergency measure the $20 monthly fee is a small price to pay for the dramatically increased personal safety it brings.
Traditionally, however, company owners are afraid of losing control over customer requests and actively discourage & punish cell phone users. This self-interested & outdated attitude is the biggest obstacle presently to universal usage and, thus, safer working conditions which would follow. Company owners must be prepared to set aside their personal feelings about this since driversí safety is at stake.
Cell phone use ought to be officially encouraged & endorsed by City Hall. It also should be actively promoted by company owners, going so far, even, as to utilize block purchasing power to reduce costs for drivers.
In the event of being threatened and restricted from moving freely it is necessary to have an another method by which we can transmit a radio signal, besides hand-holding a microphone.
An alternate transmit switch, wired to the radio, can easily be installed in another location, such as on the floor or sidewall.
This is a relatively easy, inexpensive procedure, and could be legislated.
This could be mounted almost anywhere, such as the roof, rear window, or front grill, and ought to emit an unusually coloured light so as to attract more attention. The trip switch would be mounted on the floor or sidewall.
The cost & installation of these would also be reasonably accessible, and this too could be a legislated safety measure.
This alarm would be of the high decibel type and, mounted inside, would blast the interior with shocking noise when tripped. This may well startle an assailant, and draw public attention, and buy the driver some escape opportunity; it could be tripped by foot, or mounted on the steering wheel.
This device also is reasonably priced, at about $70, and as a portable, autonomous unit may be easily installed & removed by the driver him/herself.
The safe would be on a timer, like many convenience store safes, and either bolted to or built into the floor of the car. In this way the driver could make regular deposits but without having to leave the vehicle.
The problem with this method is that determined thieves may view the car itself as the cash-box making the vehicle a target for theft as well. Also, the purchase & installation of this safe may not be very cost effective, especially when compared to making regular bank deposits.
Drivers can be encouraged to report violent incidents to company officials who would maintain records, including dates, locations, nature of incident, etc.... This list would be regularly updated and made freely available to drivers. This practice already exists but only applies to "bad" credit card information. How much more important than money is the life of a driver.
Brokers are already required by law to keep accurate records of calls dispatched, and to produce them when requested by Police. This is simply an extension of that responsibility and information thus gathered would provide valuable statistical information relating to crime trends & prevention.
This would not require additional costs or equipment - simply the time it takes to jot something down on paper and photocopy it. However, having such a list available would help drivers to identify "trouble spots" and chronically difficult passengers. This, of course, would greatly increase driversí abilities to avoid those violent situations in the first place.
Probably, this would also need legislating in order to ensure compliance.
A plexiglass shield behind the driver, dividing the cab, would afford some protection from abusive passengers in the rear. It could not protect a driver from an attacker who approaches from the front or side. Even still, this could be a lifesaving device at times & many drivers would consider it.
The disadvantage of this barrier is that it inherently creates psychological distance between the driver & customer whereas a friendly rapport is sometimes the crucial element in maintaining civility, especially when alcohol plays a role.
Another disadvantage is economic; given the exploitative nature of the system a driver is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. If he utilizes a shield then he can carry only three passengers in the back, and perhaps lose customers to those cars without shields which can carry five passengers.
So the driver is forced to choose between a) insufficient earnings and physical vulnerability or b) even less sufficient earnings and increased physical safety.
The only practical way to introduce this device is to mandate it so that all cars for hire in London utilized it, thereby evening out the competitive playing field in this regard.
Byron, Dorchester, Lambeth, Arva, Lobo, Delaware, Strathroy, Thamesford, St. Thomas and Toronto are examples of areas which London drivers regularly carry passengers to & from. Often this puts drivers out of radio communication range. If a driver has no other means to communicate, then a personal attack or a mechanical breakdown could leave him in dire circumstances.
Taxi companies profit by sending their drivers to these locales and so they ought to be responsible enough to transmit/receive a strong enough signal to stay connected with their driver. Whether equipment upgrading is necessary, or just a simple increase in power, companies ought to invest in this safety measure without delay. Money invested in prevention is always well spent and eventually recovered; lives lost due to negligence can never be replaced.
This co-ordination of transmission range with taxi service range seems only sensible yet will almost certainly need to be legislated because of company resistance.
Dangerous situations occur when a driver must confront a non-paying passenger for payment due. Given the impoverished incomes of many drivers debt forgiveness here is not a viable option. And, given the level of victimization we already suffer, drivers need a more healthy, more empowering alternative than passivity in the face of larcenous, violent attitudes.
Since physical force is not the best answer either a suitable alternative is to require after-dusk customers to pay in advance with a large enough deposit to cover the expected fare; from this the driver would return them their proper change.
This policy could avoid many confrontations and situations where people run away without paying their fare. It could be easily promoted by companies & drivers, and even legislated so some responsibility for compliance would immediately fall upon the passenger.
A very simple way to ensure that, even if robbed, one is not dispossessed entirely of daily earnings. If widely practiced, to the point of becoming general public knowledge, this simple method could be a valuable deterrent also.
This costs nothing but a few moments of time, and can be effectively promoted by company representatives and drivers, among themselves.
Martial arts practice may offer some drivers added confidence & protection in conflicts, although, admittedly, one still remains in a very vulnerable physical position behind the wheel.
London Police may have staff resources and expertise to share with interested drivers in some kind of seminar fashion; more thorough, ongoing training should be up to the driver. Although not all drivers are physical suited for such exertions, the benefits of such learning are very positive overall.
In terms of cost a driver must decide what value she is getting in return for fees paid; martial arts club fees tend to be on a par with health club fees and, so, are not so easily accessible to drivers.
Currently the only function of roving "company cops" (known as "road chiefs & monitors") is to target drivers for punitive measures. While fundamentally we disagree with their coercive role, if (for the immediate future) they remain present then they are good candidates to assume more responsibility towards improving driver safety.
Para-professional training could prepare them effectively to deal with difficult personalities and self-defense techniques, first-aid & cultural awareness training could all be a part of this. This could greatly improve the safety & morale of drivers, and perhaps improve their own effectiveness as monitors.
The company costs of group-training here would be an example of money well spent on prevention, providing invaluable returns in the form of deaths & injuries avoided. The companies would need to promote their new role.
The common sense & intuition of drivers must be respected in all situations, especially when they are apprehensive. A driver should never be coerced or pressured by management into accepting customers or destinations that he/she does not feel comfortable with, including deliveries.
Also, the Taxi By-law must be amended, striking the requirement that a driver is bound to accept anyone at anytime, anywhere in the city as his passenger. This requirement is itself denying of a driver's common sense & better judgement. His right to choose must be respected and actively upheld through company policies, and through supportive legislation.
We have noticed a marked escalation of violent, abusive, and aggressive attitudes when groups of four or five "celebrants" share the same ride, as compared to three or less people.
The more crowded and noisy it becomes in the cab the more difficult it is for a driver to maintain complete control of the vehicle and relative control over the proceedings inside the car. As excitement levels rise amongst five loud, drunk people (especially University students) so does the temptation to behave more & more uninhibitedly to the point of abuse, belligerence and total disregard for the driver, who is always the "wet blanket" because he is sober.
Quite simply, in this way the driver often becomes the convenient target for unwarranted group frustrations and resentments.
When a customer is unhappy about not being permitted to smoke in a taxi he will usually accept this. Disappointed but respectful, he will usually proceed with a reasonable attitude. When a customer who is part of a larger group is unhappy about not being permitted to smoke quite often she will curse, badger & insult the driver in an intolerable, confrontational manner.
This is simply a matter of numbers, and it only makes sense that the fewer belligerent attitudes you are faced with, the safer you are. Also, many of the newer cabs are coming equipped with only four seat-belts and, within a few years, the downsized vehicle designs will mean that only four passenger taxis will be available anyhow.
Since carrying five passengers in a taxi equipped for four constitutes a public risk & illegal act, and since driver safety is decreased with increased passenger loads, it is only fitting that all taxis consistently be required to obey a four passenger maximum limit.
Such a policy would be an effective, preventative measure and, given the variety of auto designs and attitudes, would almost certainly need to be legislated.
There are many cases of assault, vehicle damage, and property damage caused by drunken university students, mostly male.
A coordinated enforcement policy between City Police, University Police, and University Administration could be set up to help curb this excessive behaviour, and this could be done simply by exchanging investigative information with each other. It could also include information & observations from existing Neighborhood Watch programs in those areas traditionally affected by such destructive student behaviours.
Such a multilateral arrangement would be similar in principle to the extraterritorial jurisdiction the Military has over military personnel, wherever and whenever they are found in violation of internal codes of conduct.
It seems quite workable because students of the university, upon admission, are already bound to uphold particular standards of conduct for which they are held liable. It makes no sense for University administrators to overlook such responsibility if the student just happens to be off-campus. In fact it would be in the best interest of the University to do all it can to ensure its good reputation is not being sullied by those few representatives of the student body who are inclined towards violent and abusive behaviour.
Excerpted below are some examples of University penalties already in place to deal with such comparatively minor offenses as plagiarism, and nonpayment of library fines. They are drawn from the Universityís 1996-97 Academic Calendar:
How much more concerned & punitive the administration ought to be when it comes to acts of violence against persons and willful damage to public & private property.
Taxi drivers of all people are aware of the economic benefits which university related spending has locally. Even still, when the destructive actions of these young consumers go unchecked our own community standards are eroded and, considering the costs of property damage and driver safety, these people, at some point, become a liability to public welfare.
While it is true the University cannot supervise its students everywhere it can respond to wrongdoing when informed of it through legitimate channels. Such an information exchange policy would cost nothing to implement, and London Police officers would not be required to do anything above and beyond the normal call of duty.
There can be few businesses with so many self-interested parties, all vying for influence, as the London taxi business. Politicians, company owners, individual business license owners, multiple-business license owners, committee members who divert public attention towards personal crusades for notoriety ... all overshadow the desperate, silent reality of the driver, who is never heard.
This bears witness to the sad, sad reality that the present administrative/regulatory system functions so effectively to subvert democracy and coerce drivers into submission. We face very real dangers of dismissal & predation for speaking the truth in the face of established but immoral practices. And yet there exists such a desperate need for change & reform that something must be done to help alleviate the intolerable injustices we are facing every day of our lives.
Given the obvious and not-so-obvious conflicts of interest here, and given the failure of the system so far to deal with our issues, it seems essential for the well being of both, the truth and the drivers, that we have access to a politically autonomous advocate.
Our City Council, guardians of the Public Trust, ought to appoint one honest, concerned citizen (in consultation with the driversí constituency) to advocate on our behalf where need be. This person should be objectively supported by Council and independent of Committee, Council, or Board of Control policies. They should be free to voice their concerns directly to the Mayor, Council, and Committees without being bound by the current bureaucratic channels regarding taxi industry business.
Taxi drivers submit to fingerprinting & photographing by police, and are required to pass exams at the Civic and company levels before being permitted to go to work. We must also make available our business records to City Clerk or Chief of Police on demand. We are not criminals, so therefore these practices tell us that certain restrictions imposed upon us are commensurate with a special degree of responsibility and Public trust invested in us.
We often do face situations as dangerous as police officers do where a great deal of discretion & restraint must be exercised. And yet, we have no weapons, handcuffs, state authority, or armed backup available to us as they do. What protection do taxi drivers have then against violent crimes against our person & property but through sufficiently responsible legislation?
For as we sit in our taxicabs and accept each new customer, we do so having to rely totally on the goodwill of the passenger, trusting blindly ourselves, that we will be respected as people and not coerced, abused or attacked. This good faith on our part must reciprocally involve an equal responsibility from the state (who licenses us) to insure our protection above & beyond police presence alone.
Presently there exist no specific laws to punish those who violate this public covenant of mutual trust and assault taxi operators. Why is this so? Given the dangerous nature of the job and the Public responsibilities attached it is only right that our City Administration advocate legally on our behalf.
There needs to be a deeper recognition of the unique nature of a taxi driver's job, interpreted through a positive, pro-active framework instead of the traditional, uninformed, deprecatory one most often applied, even by politicians.
There needs to be unique legislation drafted to help protect drivers, and offer us some preferential category of justice which would serve as an extra deterrent to those who are tempted to take advantage of our vulnerability. Crimes committed at the expense of our physical, psychological or emotional well-being must come to be seen as reprehensible by the community, beginning with City officials, who must take a leadership role in transforming public attitudes and the laws which reflect them.
This, clearly, is the responsibility of Civil Government.
We recommend that a strong public awareness campaign be launched to help combat racist & stereotyped images of taxi drivers as "low-life" and "easy victims." L.D.C., representing drivers, retains a staff of copywriters/designers with commercial & corporate experience and should play an integral role. We recommend that this campaign be funded jointly by the City and the Brokerages, with talent & situational experience supplied by L.D.C..
After long & careful consideration we feel the best and most effective solution to the problem of driver safety, >including co-related contributing factors, is to establish a location, or Centre, where drivers can come openly & freely, sharing their experience in a non-political and non-corporate atmosphere. This would be a "safe place" with a wholistic, pro-active approach to the entrenched poverty, powerlessness and lack of dignity which drivers experience daily. It would also negate the need for underground types of organization.
Drivers work under many of the same, if not worse, conditions that Police officers do: dangerous confrontations, shift work, long hours, repetitive exposure to disturbing social realities which most people are isolated from - all without adequate security, compensation, respect or support services. It is not surprising that taxi drivers suffer similar pressures & ravages like substance abuse, emotional stresses, demoralization, and family breakups in proportions far exceeding that of the general population. We estimate that about 90% of drivers are threatened or verbally abused at work, and that about 60 - 70% of drivers have faced physical attacks on the job.
The desperate need among drivers for a healthier, dignified alternative to the inhumane conditions we endure cannot be overstated. It is apparent to all of us that no matter how much dignity an individual can bring to bear in this environment he cannot change it alone; eventually it bears down on him. Having a "safe place" is a basic security which must occur before we can, collectively or individually, address key issues effectively. Specifically we need to create alternatives beyond this "survival mode" of existence. A Driver Support Centre will recognize the unique nature of drivers' lives and assist them to implement programs tailored to their circumstances. Drivers themselves will play key roles in the Centre's evolution, patronizing it, volunteering, sharing strength & grievance to create a safer, more sustainable environment & an improved, reliable public service.
Under the present system drivers dare not show any collective imagination, strength, independence or initiative openly, even just to improve their own conditions.
No one in authority has ever dealt seriously or empathetically enough with our circumstances, and official words of support truly lack credibility. Our situation has existed in this way for decades - at least as many years as some members of Council have served. And it is only exacerbated by the personal, business & political ties which some Councilors enjoy with some taxi company owners.
Fortunately, London drivers are rounding an important bend in the emotional & psychological landscape, and we refuse to be diminished any further than what has already been imposed. As workers we simply cannot provide excellent service as long as we remain insecure, intimidated & bullied, and we of London Drivers' Conference are prepared to work on behalf of our members for improved working conditions, opportunities & improved levels of service which customers are right to expect.
We propose to offer job specific, accessible services in areas such as:
We are already fortunate to know professional people (teachers, therapists, counsellors) skilled in some of these areas who are willing to help establish such an umbrella of services for our drivers. We are confident we can easily locate many more who will also support both the planning & operational stages of this project. We KNOW that drivers themselves will patronize these services with enthusiasm & relief.
We appeal to our Mayor and City Councilors to take at least some remedial action by lending their support to such a worthy venture in the form of an official endorsement.
Funding may be available to us from Human Resources Development Canada and could be used to secure a modest location and a Program Coordinator for our Centre. A letter of endorsement to H.R.D.C. on our behalf from the City would greatly increase our likelihood of success in the application process.
This initial, nominal involvement would go a long way towards making our lives safer, healthier and more dignified and is an opportunity to prove genuine concern for our plight in a concrete way, if in fact such concern exists. Such moral support here would result in help for over two thousand London citizens (including children & spouses of drivers) who have needed something like this for years.
In this way we could be helping ourselves and our families effectively and contributing to the creation of a healthier community.
Without such a resource base the lives of we and our children will continue to teeter on the brink of destitution in the midst of London's affluence. Our exploitation and intimidation will continue to be an increasingly shameful reminder (for all of our citizens & visitors) of the corruption & injustice which presently yoke us. It is a shameful reminder indeed because as well as our physical safety, our very spirits and dignity are relentlessly attacked by the system we presently work under.
We should all realize that we are none of us untouched by another's fate.
With so much enthusiasm being directed to the forging of new ties with expanding Pacific Rim economies it is only decent to forge supportive relations among our own citizens as well - including the 600 to 1000 citizen drivers who still suffer so many severe obstacles to economic & political freedoms here at home, and who have blueprints in hand to change this.
This search for safety is inseparably tied to our struggle for human dignity.