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January 13, 2000
Demand for Compulsory Cab Shields Mounts
R S Shankar
Consider the numbers:
* Since 1991, there have been 32 taxi drivers slain while on duty. Almost all drivers experience "fare-jumping."
* At least 85 per cent of drivers will be a victim of some other criminal act at least once in their career.
* About 71 per cent will be victims of assault. More than 35 per cent will be robbed and 15 per cent will have a weapon used against them.
Are we reading about cab drivers in New York city?
Though the robberies and murders of cab drivers in New York remain high, the above statistics are from a government report published about cabbies in Canada, with most of the numbers coming from Toronto.
And now, as many cabbies and their families are wondering why two cabbies were killed within one week recently, cab-drivers, car-owners and their families are demanding a dividing shield.
A few years ago, drivers and owners of taxi fleets had opposed the shield, claiming that it cost them too much (about $ 500, Canadian) but with escalating drug scene and concomitant violence in and around Toronto, the demand for the shields is becoming shriller day by day. But if the Toronto cabbies were to listen to their counterpart in New York, they should demand for bullet-proof diving shields.
"Even then there is no guarantee no assault will take place," says New York cabbie Gurbir Singh. "You have to have some contact with the passenger, especially when the fare is paid."
The family of Mohammadullah Saighani, an Afghan medical doctor who drove a cab in Toronto because he could not practise medicine, believes he would still be alive if his cab had a dividing shield.
The family of the second cabbie, Baljinder Singh Rai, who was killed in Brampton near Toronto, echo the demands of the Saighani family.
Apart from shields, which provide a barrier between the front and back seats, video cameras aimed at passengers have been suggested as possible safety measures.
Recently, a few cabs in New York were installed with the video cameras, and if the experiment is successful, every cab will have a video camera. Even if the assailant tries to destroy the camera, the picture will be beyond his or her reach.
A few years ago, Toronto drivers and owners said many customers felt the shields were inconvenient and unpleasant. So some taxicabs which had the shields began removing them. Now, they want them back.
"If everyone had them, customers wouldn't have a choice,'' fleet-owner Beant Mann said recently.
"Unless it is made mandatory by the city, nothing will work,'' said Peter Zahakos, operations manager of Co-op Cabs, to reporters in Toronto.
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