Roy Beaudry, Director of the Taxi Bureau for the Montreal Urban Community, in the name of the Security Committee, invited me to meet with you today to help evaluate options for improving taxi driver safety - a topic of local, national, and international concern.
As you know taxi drivers provide public transportation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They serve all residents and visitors, in all neighborhoods and districts, in all types of weather. Taxis are an indispensable element of the transportation system of the Montreal Urban Community.
Yet, taxi drivers are at risk. They are the targets for robbery, assault and murder. In the United States they are the highest risk profession sustaining nearly 40 times the average homicide rate for all professions. Driving a taxi is also a high risk profession in Canada, Australia, England, and other countries.
What can be done to protect taxi drivers in Montreal? This is the reason we are gathered here today. I look forward to working with the Taxi Bureau and the Security Committee and meeting with many of you. I know of no other regulatory agency which has worked so diligently and with so many groups to consider and act on taxi driver safety.
Before we begin today, let me tell you who I am. I know that many of you must be asking, "How did a professor of civil engineering become involved in taxi driver safety?"
In 1991 I began a study on the use of computer dispatch software in paratransit and taxi operations. A year later I began another project on taxi driver safety. Both research projects were funded by the US Department of Transportation, and they were co-sponsored by the International Taxi and Livery Association. During those projects I traveled to a number of taxi companies around the US, and I met with or corresponded with many taxi drivers and officials, including some of you here today.
Recently my research has focused on the use of advanced technology for public transportation. I am the principal investigator of two USDOT demonstration projects for the use of computer dispatch, digital communication, automatic vehicle location, and smart cards in public transportation. I co-chair the Urban Transportation Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Now that you know who I am, let me give you my perspective on the MUC taxi driver security problem. When confronted with a public problem of broad scope and impact like taxi driver safety, we should follow a systematic approach for solution.
As a first step, a client group for collective inquiry should be formed. Second, the client group identifies the problem in terms of its nature, magnitude, and risk factors. Furthermore, the group identifies the institutional, technical and financial constraints on the problem. Third, the group explicitly defines its long term and short term solution objectives. Fourth, potential solutions need to be identified. Fifth, the group evaluates and compares the potential solutions with respect to the objectives and constraints. Lastly, the group chooses its preferred solution and recommends a plan for implementation.
This approach is being followed by the Taxi Bureau. It is a model for other cities.
In 1990 following the murder of a taxi driver, the Taxi Bureau collaborated with the taxi industry to organize a Round Table consisting of representatives from the taxi owners or leagues, taxi dispatching companies or associations, the police department, the Quebec Ministry of Transport, the Montreal Urban Community Transport Commission, the Quebec Automobile Insurance Association, and the Quebec Transport Commission. The Round Table implemented a number of safety programs:
Between 1990 and 1995 as a result of Round Table efforts, the number of MUC taxi robberies fell dramatically by 60% from 187 annual armed robberies to 76. Furthermore, relations between taxi drivers, the police, and the community improved.
Unfortunately in 1996 Montreal experienced an increase in violent crime and a taxi driver was badly injured and left for dead. In response, the Round Table created the Security Committee to examine additional methods to protect drivers. In addition to the usual Round Table partners, the new Committee includes a representative of the Montreal association of taxi drivers. Today's conference is sponsored by the Committee, and it is another step in the systematic, collaborative effort to find a solution to the taxi driver safety problem. By continuing and promoting the collaborative effort, the Committee hopes that its recommendations will be more likely accepted and implemented by the taxi industry including owners and drivers.
The explicit objectives of the Committee are as follows:
To the Security Committee I would like to recommend two more objectives for consideration:
Besides identifying objectives, we must also consider constraints within which successful safety measures must operate. As I understand the Montreal problem, there are several constraints. Some constraints may be diminishing; some are rigid. They include the following:
There are undoubtedly other objectives and other constraints regarding driver security measures. Fully identifying the objectives and overcoming the constraints with regard to all the client groups will facilitate the selection and implementation of a successful security system.
Already the MUC has had experiences with a variety of driver security measures as previously mentioned. In general driver security measures fall into three categories: pro-active, preventive and reactive, though some may fall into more than one category. They target critical factors of assaults to thereby avoid or neutralize them. Furthermore, we can add a fourth category: local policies.
Pro-active measures remove or reduce the motive or opportunity for assault. This category includes cashless fares, driver security training, caller ID, police security checks, and dispatcher call-backs to passengers.
Since robbery is the motivation of the vast majority of taxi driver assaults and homicides, it make sense to strongly consider a cashless fare solution or safety methods which limit the amount of cash a driver carries.
Preventive measures deter an assault or limit the potential for injury or death if the assailant is near by or inside the taxi. These methods include shields, decals stating limited cash in the taxi, decals stating that the cab may be stopped by police for security checks, communication techniques for conflict resolution, and driver awareness and good judgment.
Since virtually all driver assailants use guns and knives, it makes sense to strongly consider shields to separate drivers and passengers.
Reactive measures help protect the driver once an assault begins. These devices may prevent the successful completion of a robbery or assault and reduce the probability of injury or death. Devices in this category include safes, warning lights, in-trunk releases, hidden microphone switches, radio codes, and automatic vehicle tracking and location. Reactive measures may also help to identify and bring to justice driver assailants. They include video cameras, voice radio recordings, address and telephone number records, and rewards.
There is a strong argument, however, that because of the speed with which an assault may occur, we should place priority attention on pro-active and prevention measures rather than reactive measures.
Members of the taxi industry control the decision to implement or not pro-active, preventive and reactive countermeasures. Other more policy level measures depend on the decisions of persons outside the taxi industry. These methods include responsible media coverage, local gun control, legal penalties, and economic, environmental, and social programs to reduce the causes of crime.
In closing, I would like to leave you with several summary thoughts.
First, the taxi driver safety problem is complicated, and its resolution depends on the collaborative efforts of persons inside and outside the taxi industry.
Second, no one method is likely to solve the problem. A balanced mix of safety measures should combine appropriately selected pro-active, preventive, reactive and policy-level options.
Third, driver safety objectives should not be considered in isolation from passenger service objectives, especially over the long term. Computer-assisted dispatch technology is advancing rapidly, falling in price and becoming more widely affordable. Eventually, in the not-too-distant future passenger service will be significantly improved, more passengers will be carried, more fares and revenues will be collected by credit card, and there will be more competition. Drivers and companies which have the technology will flourish. Furthermore, driver safety benefits will result as marginal cost additions to the dispatch technology. In the meantime, for the current situation I suggest that the Security Committee develop long-term, as well as short-term, recommendations to the driver safety problem.
Fourth, and finally, a word of caution. We should all think about who is ultimately responsible for the safety of a taxi driver. Is it the driver? The company or taxi owner? Or a regulatory agency? Should the taxi industry take care of its own? Or should a regulatory agency adopt a "parental" approach to the welfare of taxi drivers. If a regulatory agency mandates safety equipment, it accepts some responsibility, and companion liability if a safety device fails to protect a driver. And unfortunately no safety device or method guarantees full protection.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak and meet with you. I look forward to a productive day.