Violence Against Taxi Drivers
A Growing Problem in the Greater Toronto Area
by Bern Prince
Crime on the streets is an increasingly painful reality in the Greater Toronto Area. Taxi cab drivers are twenty times more likely than the average person to be victimized by crime and are 5 times more likely than police to be killed on the job according to a recently released Department of Justice study. Says University of Toronto Criminology Professor Richard Stenning, who conducted the study. "The only occupation with a higher risk than cab drivers is prostitutes".
Fare-jumping, vandalism and minor assaults are reported to be the most common forms of victimization, Almost all taxi drivers reported experiencing fare-jumping while 61% of drivers said that it had happened to them more than twice in the previous 12 months. Eighty five percent of drivers interviewed reported some other form of victimization such as robbery and assault at least once during their taxi driving careers (with the average respondent driving for five years). Sixty percent indicated victimization within the last year. Fifteen percent of taxi drivers reported having had a weapon used against them within the last twelve months.
Although the Department of Justice study, which focused on crime in Halifax, Winnipeg and Vancouver, indicates that most victimizations are relatively minor, with little or no personal injury to the driver and $40 or less stolen, Professor Stennlng indicates, "It is quite possible that victimization is worse in Toronto because it has all of those crime attributes of a very large metropolitan area. The crime figures for the Greater Toronto Area do make for a frightening read.
The Metropolitan Toronto Police indicate that, in Metro Toronto, during 1996 to date there have been 154 reported assaults against taxi drivers. 53 assaults with a weapon causing bodily harm, 2 sexual assaults against taxi drivers, 5 aggravated assaults, 1 attempt to choke, 139 armed robberies, 2 attempts at armed robberies, 59 unarmed robberies, 10 taxi thefts. 116 reported fare-jumpings and 22 reported cases of threats against taxi drivers.
The Peel Regional Police indicate that during 1996 to date in Peel there have been 32 reported crimes against taxi drivers, with 10 involving hand guns, 7 involving knives and five involving other weapons such as pepper spray or blunt instruments. Sergeant Peter Morgan, Media Relations Officer for Peel Regional Police, notes, "Every year there seems to be more firearms related offences."
These crime figures are discomforting but they are even more disconcerting when you take into account the indication in the Department of Justice study that the majority of crime against cab drivers is not reported.
Kamal Gill, Manager at All-Star Taxi Co-op agrees that taxi driving is a high risk occupation. Fare jumping is common, "Our drivers report people running off two or three times each night," Assault is common, "Just last Friday (two weeks ago) a group of 15 to 17 year olds threw an axe at a group at taxi drivers at Meadowvale Town Centre."
Every cabby seems to have his own story of violence, Kamal notes, "Just two years ago, when I was driving, I was robbed by two kids at Burnhamthorpe. They wrapped a bandanna around my neck and pulled it tight across my throat from behind."
Komal's case fits with the indication that the take is usually small when cabby's are robbed, "They only got $40 and both were caught and charged by the police."
Mario, who's worked for City Taxi for a year and a half has not been robbed himself but he knows many who have. He figures, "We have 20% risk for robbery... It happens every week." Based on what he's heard, the amount robbed ranges from $50 to $200.
Bal Suhota, a Mississauga cab driver mentions a fellow cabby who was clubbed on the face and robbed of $120 by four people in Malton a few months ago.
Neither driver experience nor driver training seems to affect a cabby's chances of avoiding violence, according to the Department of Justice study, There was not much difference reported in the experiences during the previous 12 months of drivers who had significant driving experience and those new to driving cabs, nor between those who had received formal training in driver safety/risk awareness and those who had not received such training.
There are some known risk areas for cab drivers. The first commonplace risk area is a night-time bar. Several cabbies mentioned incidents arising with drunk passengers picked up at a bar, Sergeant Morgan notes, "Quite often cab drivers will pick people up in Toronto and get out to (Peel) and find themselves robbed." They will come to any highly populated area with apartment buildings and the robber will flee into the vicinity of the apartment building. A specific area mentioned by Sergeant Morgan and several cabbies was Malton. "We're having a problem with people coming from the Jane/Finch area into Malton and robbing cabbies." There's a similar problem "along a street called Acorn in Mississauga."
In most cities across Canada, the taxi industry is quite ethnically divided. according to Professor Stenning, He notes, "East Indians have a very dominant role in the taxi industry in Toronto." Although the study indicates that no significant correlations were found between experiences of victimization and whether the driver was white or non-white, Professor Stenning advises, "Its very clear." that incidents of racial discrimination and insults against taxi drivers are not uncommon, Drivers on the street in the Greater Toronto Area indicate that racist harassment is a significant problem. "F..k you Paki" is heard far too often for taxi drivers' comfort advises Surinder, a Toronto cabby. However, Sergeant Morgan indicates that few occasions of racial harassment are reported to the police.
Cab drivers use a number of methods to try and protect themselves against crime: in-cab safety shields between the front and rear seats, two-way radios to keep in touch with the dispatcher, driver control of the locks on cab doors, panic buttons, customer or address blacklists. and common sense screening of passengers. Although it is illegal for a cabby to carry a weapon, both the Department of Justice study and interviews with local cabby's indicate that a lot of drivers carry around something to defend themselves. usually a tire iron or a baseball bat.
The prevalence of taxi drivers with weapons means that a cabby is not always an easy touch for the criminal. According to the Department of Justice study, the fellow trying to victimize the taxi driver is injured as often as, and often more seriously than, the cab driver himself.
"Many of these assaults arise out of fare disputes and many of them involve a passenger who is intoxicated." indicates Professor Stennlng, "Some others Involve racial taunts and often these kind of disputes lead to fisticuffs. Many of these drivers are from cultures where backing down is considered unmanly and the driver will take on the passenger he thinks is cheating or insulting or defrauding him or whatever... "If you've got a sober driver going against an intoxicated passenger then its not surprising that quite often the passengers get hurt."
Sergeant Peter Morgan disagrees with the validity of the statistic In respect of violence by cab drivers. noting, "It has been my perception and my experience that it is the cabbies that have been injured and the victims of these robberies, not the culprits."
In-cab safety shields are one of the most effective means of protection for cab drivers but are still relatively uncommon in Toronto. "Decent people don't like to sit behind a shield," says Kamal from All Star Taxis. Professor Stenning agrees that this is a common perception among drivers, And in the cut-throat taxi business drivers don't want to reduce their competitive advantage by adopting changes that are expensive and unappealing to customers.
The study indicates that the main reason cab drivers don't report crime is the feeling that the amount of time spent reporting on the crime and off work would double their victimization. Drivers either never or rarely reported fare jumping and minor theft offences, indicating that the problem was not serious enough, or reporting the problem would result in loss of time and pay, and in any case feeling that the police would not do anything about the crime or would be slow to respond. As Professor Stenning states, "I can't imagine police ever giving high priority to fare jumping." A majority of drivers, according to the study, said that relations between drivers and police were mediocre, bad or very bad.
Despite the pessimism of cab drivers, police indicate that reported crime will be investigated. Sergeant Morgan states. "They work hard for their money and we'd like make sure they keep it." The figures back him up. Of 32 reported crimes against taxi drivers in Peel during 1996. 17 have been solved and only 15 remain outstanding.
More than one half of cab drivers involved in the study indicated that their taxi companies did not take seriously enough the risks of criminal victimization faced by cab drivers. Yet, Professor Stenning indicates that the main obstacle to greater use of protective technology and training within the taxi industry is the industry's structure. A majority of drivers are owner-operators and independent contractors who can't afford to invest in safety measures.
Professor Stenning suggests that the best way to promote driver safety is regulation by the province or taxi licensing bodies to require all commercial cabs to have safety devices, such as in-cab safety shields. That way the cabby adopting the shield will not be put at a competitive disadvantage. However, new regulations may require a new regulatory system. Professor Stenning notes, "The current regulatory system tends to be dominated by taxi owners rather than the drivers.
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