By Chelsea Tyler McNeill
There has always been a focus on the safety of passengers in taxis, but it seems the risks have become just as high for the drivers themselves, with reports of drugs and violence becoming commonplace on the average night shift.
Two Dublin based drivers have spoken out about how they have been exposed to violence and threats while on shift and they both admit to carrying protection, even though it is illegal for them to do so.
“Most of the time you do feel safe but when you feel unsafe, you feel very unsafe. You just don’t know who is in your car or sitting behind you, some people are so weird that they creep you out just by listening to them. You really don’t know if you are safe or not until the end of the journey and they get out of the car,” said Michael (not his real name), a taxi driver from Dublin who has been working in the business for nearly two decades.
Michael noticed a shift in the job as drugs and violence are now more common than ever. He claims that a growing number of the people he picks up from clubs and nightclubs on a Saturday night have been taking drugs and a lot of them attempt to do so in his car.
“They [can] get very violent when they take drugs, I don’t think they realise how violent they actually are. I tend not to say anything if someone takes drugs in my car, if they go as far as to take drugs out on front of me, then I know they are not bothered about what I think or what I am going to say and all I will do is aggravate them,” he said.
Marcus (not his real name), who is in his thirties and also from Dublin, said he takes the same approach and would sometimes bite his tongue if he thinks acting could put him in danger. When it comes to people running without paying, he also thinks it isn’t worth chasing because the consequences may not be worth the money.
Both taxi men have had times where they were shaken up in their car which ultimately led to them thinking it was necessary to carry a form of protection even though it is prohibited. Some of Michael’s experiences have made him reconsider staying in the business but he says he has little choice .
“I had no choice but to carry on because it is the only form of work I have. I have been driving a taxi for almost twenty years, I never did a junior or leaving cert because I left school at 13 so I have no qualifications,” he explained.
Both men were asked if it is necessary to carry protection as a taxi driver and both believed it was absolutely vital and that almost every taxi man would do so.
Marcus said: “At all times it is necessary to have protection, mainly taxi drivers carry a baton but it is completely illegal. [Many taxi drivers] have some form of protection and I would say most of them have used it once or twice. It wouldn’t stand in court if it was used and you were arrested because it is illegal to carry a weapon in your car. You are better off using your fists if it comes to protecting yourself but it just gives you that reassurance knowing you have protection.”
When it comes to regulatory bodies protecting taxi men, neither driver felt like there was sufficient help. “You are self-employed so you are completely out on your own regardless, the taxi union is there for legal stuff or to help you with your insurance but with protection and safety, you are out on your own. You would just go to the guards if you are attacked or in an incident, not any taxi bodies,” said Michael.
Sara Morris from the National Transport Authority had to agree with the drivers as their authority would have no involvement in this area and neither would the union.
She said: “Taxi drivers are self employed so in any instances like that, it would be up to the drivers themselves to go to the Garda. We have put a forum up on our website to see if drivers would be interested in new safety equipment like putting up partitions or installing cameras. We are gathering all of the information from that and hopefully we will have a decision based on the drivers needs by the end of the year but it is a slow process and it will take a while to come in. Also the costs of any safety equipment would be put on to the drivers so some of them may not opt for this because it will be expensive. It is unfortunate though and you do see attacks on taxi drivers in the papers a lot but any criminal activity in a taxi would be dealt with by the Garda, not us. It is important to emphasize that the current SPSV regulatory framework does not prohibit any proportionate, lawful safety measures and many drivers have implemented such measures already,” she said.
Garda sources agreed that it is a sticky situation for drivers. One explained: “If a taxi driver is attacked or someone runs without paying, it is a criminal matter so they should come to us, not taxi organisations. We take an attack or robbery the same way as we would if it happened to anyone on the street but if the taxi driver used a weapon or assaulted someone, they would be arrested as well as the party who didn’t pay or attacked them.”
Both taxi drivers we interviewed found this supposed ‘peace of mind’ to be useless and they both claim they would not be able to afford to install these cameras, partitions or the locational alert systems that have been suggested by transport minister Paschal Donohoe.
“It is just ridiculous, the government and NTA have been saying this for so long, they will provide taxi drivers with safety if we can afford to pay for it. All of these new technologies are expensive, so what happens to the taxi drivers who can’t afford them? We just have to hope for the best? Again this is the government helping the rich and pity about the poor,” said Marcus.
We asked ten taxi drivers, both part time and full time, if they could afford to provide their own safety equipment or if they would be willing to pay for it and all ten said no. So it is clear that providing a safe working environment for taxi drivers is going to be a difficult proposition.