In Memory of:
Ahmed Hussein Ahmed, July 10, 2003
Douglas Halek, May 25, 2003
Mohammed Ahmed Saleh, August 8, 2003
Daniel Begashaw Kaptyimer, April 8, 2000
Said Isse Igal, March 8, 1998
Wilbur Nieuwsma, January 1, 1995
Many of the statistics and figures cited in this paper come from governmental reports or studies funded by grants. However, the most compelling evidence comes from personal interview with those involved in the daily life of taxi drivers. Much of this paper is based on personal interviews with James L. Szekely, Jim Moncur, Duane Haponuk, Christine Hackett, Doug Hicks, Vicky Sanders, and three local taxi companies that have chosen to remain anonymous. Szekely worked as a taxi driver until his throat was slashed and left for death. He is now the Director of the International Taxi Drivers Safety Council and was a wealth of resources. Jim Moncur and Duane Haponuk both work at the Minneapolis Regulatory Service Licensing office. Both Moncur and Haponuk were instrumental in understanding the current proceedings to improve taxi drivers' quality of life. Christine Hackett and Doug Hicks of the Minneapolis Police CODEFOR unit provided insight to the police database and crime statistics. Vicky Sanders, from the Minnesota Occupational Safety & Health Administration (MN OSHA), was helpful in teaching about OSHA's role in workplace safety.Introduction
The taxi industry is vital to the sustainability of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Currently, there are 813 licensed taxi drivers in the City of Minneapolis. Taxi drivers serve as ambassadors to any city they work. Visitors, senior citizens, and those without automobiles depend on taxis for transportation. Taxi drivers ensure that the infrequent taxi client gets home safely after an evening of celebrating with friends. When asked about taxis, people often perceive their safety as more at risk than the driver's safety. However, taxi driving is the worst occupational hazard in Minneapolis.Taxi Driver Workplace
Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a bustling city of 382,000 that grew about three percent in the last census (City of Minneapolis 2001). People often describe Minneapolis as a large city with a little city feel. Minneapolis has a thirty-five percent minority representation (City of Minneapolis 2001) and is currently rated third safest city by Travel + Leisure magazine (Rogers 2003). Crime rate is declining in accordance with national and regional trends (U.S. Department of Justice 2002). Even in Minnesota, where the people are known to be friendly, taxi drivers still experience workplace non-fatal assault and homicidal rates higher than any other occupation except that of police officers and private security guards (U.S. Department of Labor 2000).
Despite the critical role taxi drivers play in welcoming visitors and ensuring citizens safe and reliable transportation, taxi drivers receive little training about the city or safety precautions. Taxi drivers apply for their licenses through the Regulatory Service Licensing office. Taxi drivers are licensed by individual cities. Minneapolis-licensed taxi drivers are required to pass a test at the end of a sixteen-hour training session. The training covers appearance, radio procedures, map reading, and geography of the Twin Cities. The test is at the seventh- or eighth- grade level. Drivers must also satisfy a list of requirements in order to be licensed in Minneapolis. The requirements include possessing a valid driver's license, having one of year driving experience, being able to legally work in the United States, passing a criminal and driving record check, demonstrating English reading/writing/speaking skills by filling out an application, being neatly dressed, and presenting a Department of Transportation medical card, among others. Currently, the only safety equipment required in taxis is a fire extinguisher and road hazard triangles. Several local taxi companies have taken voluntary and progressive steps and have installed global positioning systems (GPS) or vehicular cameras in their taxis.
The nature of a taxi driver's profession directly places the driver at high risk for workplace violence. Both, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), have identified working with the public, with cash, alone, at night, and in high-crime areas as risk factors for workplace violence in any profession (U.S. Department of Labor 2000). The work situation of taxi drivers has these all the risk factors; however, there is not any sort of physical barrier or defensive equipment. Drivers face physical assault, robberies, and racial/discriminatory treatment (Bidhu 2001). Continued stress from assaults leads to physiological and psychological conditions such as fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and death. Most drivers perceive their job as dangerous. They continue driving taxis because they do not have other occupational options.
Non-Fatal and Homicide Statistics
Minneapolis and the nation as a whole can boast about declining crime rates in the last decade, but taxi drivers are still experiencing homicide rates double that of the next dangerous profession—a police officer. Non-fatal assault statistics on taxi drivers are difficult to find because the classification of taxi drivers as independent contractors buries their numbers in multiple places (Kabrick 2001). The dissemination of statistics on taxi drivers makes it difficult to collect data and examine trends. Much of the statistics have come from taxi driver surveys and from the few cities that have kept careful records. Nevertheless, information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that taxi drivers also experience astoundingly high rates of violent assaults (184 per 1,000 workers) (U.S. Department of Labor 2000). If actual fatal statistics are anything to gauge by, then the non-fatal assault statistics are not far off.
Fatal statistics are gathered from news organizations. Nationally, taxi drivers are sixty times more likely than other workers to be murdered on the job, according to OSHA (U.S. Department of Labor 2000). In Minneapolis, six taxi drivers died while performing their jobs from 1995 to 2003 (with three in 2003 alone) (Taxi-L 2003). Compare that number to two police officers in the same timeframe. The extent of this problem is due to reporting methods that have allowed grim data to be lost.
Searching for taxi driver assault information in police databases is inconclusive as there is no consistent method of reporting. Additionally, Kabrick maintains that as much as seventy- five percent of assaults are not reported to the police (2001). This percentage may be higher as Kabrick gathers her data from high- crime cities such as New York City. Surveys indicate that the police are not called because taxi drivers feel the police are not able to help them or to find the perpetrators. Taxi drivers and the police can help each other. Since taxi drivers are on the streets twenty-four hours a day, they can be the eyes and years of the community. On the other hand, the police can help ensure taxi drivers are safe since they are also out and about. In Minneapolis, there is no protocol on how to handle assaults on taxi drivers. When a driver is assaulted or robbed, the driver may report the incident back to the company. If the incident is serious enough, the company may or may not report to the Regulatory Service Licensing office. In turn, the Regulatory Service Licensing office may or may not report the incident to the police. Finally, the police may or may not update the Regulatory Service Licensing office on the final outcome. MN OSHA oversees the safety of the workplace, yet none of the entities are required to report to MN OSHA. (Note: Minnesota has approval from OSHA to operate its own state OSHA.) The lack of protocol stems from the classification of taxi drivers as independent contractors.
Unlike regular businesses, taxi companies and taxi drivers are not obligated to report to MN OSHA because of the classification of taxi drivers as "independent contractor." Intensive lobbying by taxi companies ensured that drivers would be classified as independent contractors. Nationally, ninety percent of taxi drivers are classified as independent contractors (Kabrick 2001). By having the taxi drivers classified as independent contractors, taxi companies are not legally required to provide health or unemployment benefits to the drivers or to pay unemployment taxes to the federal or state government. Individual taxi drivers think they benefit, because they do not have to report their actual compensation. There is no way to determine how much a driver actually makes except by what is reported.
When asked why taxi drivers should be classified as independent contractors, local taxi companies often reply that the main reason is that the drivers set their own hours. This was the common response in conversations with three local taxi companies. In fact, many companies let their employees set their own hours, yet the workers are still classified as employees, not independent contractors. Taxi drivers' vehicles are often leased from the taxi company. Pickup calls are taken at the direction of the taxi company. Szekely, states that the irony is that in cases in which a taxi driver has been murdered on the job and the deceased's family has sued the taxi company, the court awarded one-hundred percent of the time. However the current system has evolved, this structure is harmful to the health and safety of taxi drivers.
Cumulatively, the system has failed select members of our community. The perpetual dissemination of data, under-reporting of incidences, and lack of protocol has hidden the problem of workplace violence for taxi drivers. Perpetrators focus on taxi drivers, because they know they will most likely get away with it. Since most taxi drivers are either minorities, recent immigrants, or un education, they often do not know how to navigate the system to ensure their own safety. Multiple cities in the United States and Canada have implemented taxi safety mandates and have since seen sixty to eighty percent reductions in assaults on taxi drivers.
The taxi industry, as any risky business, should be subject to worker safety and health standards. The risk factors for taxi drivers, hospital workers, or gas station attendants are very similar. Yet, employee mishaps in hospitals or gas stations are reported to MN OSHA. Data regarding taxi drivers should be collected differently from current procedures. Interviews with police and MN OSHA personnel proved that taxi driver assaults are not being carefully tracked (personal communication, 2003). Police reports may or may not provide relevant data or key words so that statisticians may at least be able to glean some data out of the reports. Taxi drivers are regularly picking up strangers, hitchhikers, drunks, and drug addicts and traveling alone with these people to dangerous parts of town at night. Taxi drivers are required to pick up anyone unless there is a clear and present danger. Unfortunately, taxi drivers are undervalued even though they come to our rescue when we need them the most. Various cities have initiated interventions that have been quite successful in improving the quality of life for taxi drivers.
Any intervention would require examination of costs. The measurable costs include the purchase, installation, and maintenance of the safety equipment. Losses from robbery, low worker morale, and low productivity are costs that can only be estimated. The most expensive costs are the social ones. Social costs from trauma, lower productivity, and lower quality of life are often borne by hospitals or the individual (Stone &Stevens 1999). Benefit-to-cost (BTC) studies of interventions are difficult to find because of the lack of systematic reporting systems. Stone and Steven's study of the City of Baltimore, which kept careful records of taxi assaults for a decade before and after the implementation of barrier shields, found a benefit-to-cost ratio of 17-to-1 (1999, p. 23). The cost would pay for itself within three years. The benefits would go directly back to the community. Any comprehensive intervention would involve engineering controls, education of the drivers and the community, and enforcement of mandates.
The most intuitive engineering control would be the safety shield barrier. With the shield, the "person" element is removed such that the success of the intervention is not dependent on the person's actions. The shield also serves to protect the driver from backseat assaults, which are the most common method of assault (Stone & Stevens 1999, p. 3). Although shields work to protect the driver from backseat assaults, they cannot prevent assaults from the driver's side window or the front windshield. Shields are fairly inexpensive to purchase, install, and maintain. Barrier shields come in a variety of designs for different climates. This shield should be designed to be bulletproof, with a tray for transactions, and to optimize the comfort of the driver and customer. The shield should not become a danger in the event of a traffic accident, as well.
Although GPSs are also helpful, they do not provide an immediate physical barrier against assaults. GPSs in taxis can be equipped with two-way radios that automatically turn on in the event of an emergency. The two-way radios allow the base to hear activities in the taxi. GPSscan pinpoint the automobile within three feet; however, GPS is only as good as the satellite system. In Minneapolis, Airport taxis are already equipped with GPSs. Green & White Taxi is in the process of implementing a GPSs in their taxis.
Vehicular cameras are also helpful in deterring would-be perpetrators. Again, vehicular cameras cannot physically prevent most assaults; however, these cameras are visible so that customers know they are being filmed. The images may be sent back to the base wirelessly or stored in a box hidden somewhere in the taxi. Locally, Red & White taxis are using vehicular cameras. The problem they are facing is the quality of the image. Red & White Taxi is working to improve the system. Their initiative is commendatory.
Education should occur on all fronts—from the taxi driver to the community. Better taxi driver education is needed so individuals can begin to enjoy a better quality of life. Since the majority of taxi drivers are new immigrants, assertive American conflict resolution techniques should also be included in the mandatory training. Other training topics could include "street smarts," better emergency response, and local gun control (Bidhu 2001). Additionally, the community needs to bolster the taxi drivers by denouncing the hazardous working conditions. Community programs to promote race relations would go a long way in helping taxi drivers and customers relate to and communicate with each other. The media has an important responsibility in building this bridge (Stone et al. 1996, p.7-8).
Local enforcement agencies are critical for ensuring the safety of taxi drivers. By resolving any misunderstanding between taxi drivers and the police, the relationship could be very mutually beneficial. There seems to be a lack of communication or differences in priority between taxi drivers and the police as exemplified by the lack of protocol in Minneapolis regarding taxi driver assaults. Catching the perpetrators may be faster once a route of communication is in place. The City of Minneapolis has created a Taxi Safety Committee made up of volunteers from the community. This Taxi Safety Committee is charged with researching the pervasiveness of the problem, finding a satisfactory solution, and making recommendations to the Taxi Service Committee. The Taxi Service Committee is made up of citizens and city council members appointed by Mayor R.T. Rybak. The Taxi Service Committee will examine the recommendations and take action from there.
Driving taxis for a living is a dangerous job across the country and in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Taxi drivers have non-fatal assault rates only matched by police officers and homicide rates double that of police officers, yet these drivers are defenseless. The classification of taxi drivers as independent contractors has allowed the tragedies to slid under the radar of watchful agencies such as MN OSHA and NIOSH. Many cities across the United States and Canada have implemented intervention strategies that have resulted in successful declines in assault statistics. The interventions include one or more of the engineering controls, education of the taxi drivers and the community, and enforcement of the mandates. These interventions have even worked in a high-crime city like New York City. Montreal used a comprehensive strategy that reduced its assault rates by sixty percent (Bidhu 2001). Baltimore's shield implementation program rewarded the city with an eighty-eight percent drop in assaults (Stone & Stevens 1999). Minneapolis is a community known for its tremendously friendly people. Why not extend this friendship to taxi drivers in our community? Any steps forward will guarantee positive rewards. Many great cities have already taken the risks and reaped the rewards. It is time for Minneapolis.
Bidhu, S. J. (2001). Taxicab safety issues [Electronic version]. Winnipeg, Manitoba, CA: Taxicab Safety Working Group.
City of Minneapolis. Minneapolis Planning Department. (2001). 2000 Census Report: Population, Race, and Ethnicity (Publication #1) [Electronic version]. Minneapolis, MN: Author.
Kabrick, B. (2001). Criminal Intent Workplace Violence. Conference on Violence as a Workplace Risk. Retrieved December 11, 2003, from http://www.taxi-l.org/Criminal_Intent_Workplace_Violence.htm
Rogers, L. (2003). America's favorite cities. Travel + Leisure Retrieved December 11, 2003, from http://travelandleisure.com/afc/results.cfm?cat=11
Stone, J. R., & Stevens, D. C. (1999). The Effectiveness of Taxi Partitions: The Baltimore Case [Electronic version]. Raleigh, NC: The Southeastern Transportation Center.
Stone, J. R., Bienvenu, M. E., & Proctor, C. H. (1996, January). Taxi Driver Safety: Risks, Scenarios and Countermeasures [Electronic version]. Transportation Research Board 1996 Annual Meeting. Washington, D.C.
Taxi-L. (2003, December 5). Rate of Murdered Taxi Drivers. Retrieved December 11, 2003, from http://www.taxi-l.org/murdrate.htm
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (1996). Violence in the workplace— Risk factors and prevention strategies [Electronic version]. Current Intelligence Bulletin, 57. (Publication No. 96-100).
U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2002). Crime in the United States 2002. Uniform Crime Reports [Electronic version]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (May 2000). Risk Factors and Protective Measures for Taxi and Livery Drivers [Electronic version]. Washington, D.C.: OSHA.