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City of St. John’s meeting with taxi-industry reps to reduce violence

Discussions follow string of assaults against taxi drivers


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following recent violent assaults on taxi drivers in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital, the City of St. John’s has been holding meetings with representatives of the local taxi sector to discuss ways to improve safety for cabbies.

Since two separate incidents in the city involving violence against drivers occurred over the weekend of Jan. 31/Feb. 1, two of these meetings have taken place. Although the provincial government deals with occupational health and safety issues, the city’s municipal government has been trying to facilitate a dialogue between the industry and oh&s authorities, according to St. John’s deputy mayor Ron Ellsworth, who belongs to the City’s taxi committee.

“We had seven people in total show up, which may not seem like a lot, but we were encouraged by it because it’s about getting the message out,” said Ellsworth.

Stakeholders have been concerned about the potential financial costs of safety equipment, like security cameras or barriers between drivers and passengers, he added. “What we’re saying to the industry is that a lot of these things don’t require costs.” For example, driver education and training that focus on how to deescalate dangerous situations could go a long way. “A lot of the stuff is just cheat sheets with notes on it, or a sheet of paper with ‘10 Things to Do’ sort of thing, which is very low-cost, but could have a very high impact.”

Ellsworth noted that education would be most effective with younger and newer employees, as experienced drivers usually know enough to avoid confrontation with passengers. “Some newer drivers are getting out of their vehicles and trying to get that $20 fare to pay up. So straying around your life or endangering someone is not worth that $20 bill.” It’s better to drop the customer off and deal with it later, perhaps through the police, he said.

North West Taxi owner David Fleming, who had attended the meetings, acknowledged that the city’s taxi sector had seen recent violence, but wasn’t convinced that the situation was dire enough yet to require security cameras or barriers.

“Violence can happen at any place at any time,” said Fleming. “Violence can happen in school, it can happen at offices. You can’t be responsible for what an individual is going to do.” Compared to other types of workplaces like retail or service stations, where there is always the potential for robbery, the St. John’s taxi sector wasn’t especially bad, he added. “In my experience, you’re looking at, 90 to 95 per cent of your customers are good people.”

What bothered Fleming more was the lack of crime-enforcement representation at the meetings. “There was nobody in attendance from the Justice Department or the RNC,” he said, referring to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. “Absolutely no input from them. I mean, they’re your first line of communication when you have an incident.” Typically, St. John’s cab drivers have ended up looking out for each other in these situations, Fleming added, because when one calls the police, “you’re 14th on the priority list.”

Aside from violence, another safety issue that concerned Fleming was insufficient snow plowing on the streets in winter. Snow and ice had been causing taxi accidents in the city, he pointed out, “but nobody wants to hear that part of it.”

Although the St. John’s taxi committee generally deals more with issues involving cab meters and inspections, driver safety is an issue that it also takes seriously, Ellsworth explained.

“We’ve had a couple more severe ones over the last couple of years, where drivers have been badly hurt,” Ellsworth added, referring to assaults. “Safety’s always one of the issues on the agenda, just the point of view of trying to make sure drivers have a safe work environment.”