Hamilton taxi drivers are demanding better safety measures in response to the recent beating of a driver after an apparent fare dispute. Obviously this is a situation that should never happen, and something should be done to prevent it from happening again.
Many are suggesting that, as in other cities, a partition should be installed between the front and back seat of each taxi to isolate and protect the driver from his or her passengers. While this does make it more difficult for a passenger to assault a driver, it does create problems of its own.
If a partition isn’t mandatory, some cabbies will not want to put one in for various reasons (personal preference, cost, eliminates the front seat for passenger use). In a competitive industry, where not having a partition is an advantage over those who do, the only way to make the partitions work is to mandate them city-wide, which is apparently not easily done.
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla is filing a notice of motion that will require passengers to pre-pay their fares between 10pm and 5am, presumably the hours when most robberies and violence will occur. In theory this will ensure that everyone getting in a cab will pay at least an approximate amount of their fare, so any dispute at the end of the trip will at least leave the driver partially paid.
Does this entirely reduce the risk of violence towards cab drivers? I would argue it doesn’t. I like the idea behind a prepaid fare, but ultimately I think it will cause more grief and violence than it solves. The initial transition won’t be easy, as passengers may not feel comfortable pre-paying, or forking over an estimated fare based on the driver’s estimate. Any perceived discrepancy at the end of the trip will also be a source of conflict.
The requirement to prepay also adds another layer of difficulty. Sometimes, people call a taxi in an emergency situation (need to get to a hospital, need to get away from wherever they are, etc). While these folks may fully intend to have someone pay their fare when they get to their destination, it does increase the chances that a driver will simply refuse to accept the trip, leaving their passenger in a difficult spot.
The bottom line is that generally there seems to be an underlying mutual distrust between drivers and passengers. So far passengers have had the advantage of being able to walk away without paying, this will hand that advantage to the drivers. This may result in fewer unpaid fares, which is a good thing for the industry, but whether it cuts down on assaults on drivers is another matter entirely.
Note: I had a chance to speak with a Hamilton cab driver about this recently, and he is also doubtful about the late night pre-payment model. I know that’s hardly a conclusive survey, but it confirms I’m not entirely in the weeds on this one.