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Halifax Taxi Industry In 'Crisis' After Series Of Alleged Sex Assaults

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HALIFAX — The Halifax taxi industry is in crisis after four alleged sexual assaults by drivers in three months have left customers frightened to take a cab, the head of a drivers' association said Monday.

"It's got to stop ... It's just getting to the point where we're worried about when the next one is going to occur," said Dave Buffett after police said they were looking for a driver accused of groping a 22-year-old woman early Sunday.

The recent spate of alleged assaults has raised safety concerns in a city where there were just three alleged sexual assaults by cab drivers in all of 2015.

"For it to get to the point where people are worried about taking a cab, and whether they will be sexually assaulted, that is a crisis," said Buffett, a driver for 17 years and president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association.

"It's got to stop ... It's just getting to the point where we're worried about when the next one is going to occur."

Buffett said all cab drivers should be required to install dashboard cameras and participate in mandatory training to spell out the "dos and don'ts" of how to interact with passengers.

Halifax regional council, which regulates the industry, should make the issue a priority, but it is unlikely to do so, Buffett said.

The problem is that council is guided by a taxi liaison group and a six-member standing committee on transportation, which is also tasked with advising council about the region's complex municipal transit system. As a result, taxi issues are often pushed to the side, he said.

"This has got to be moved along," he said.

Coun. Steve Adams said he supports reviving a taxi commission that was disbanded in 2011. That body, which included industry representatives and a council member, was in charge of conducting routine inspections that kept the industry in line.

"The commission, in my opinion, was the envy of the country."

"You didn't see junk cars on the road," Adams said. "The commission, in my opinion, was the envy of the country."

Adams agreed with Buffett that more education could be needed.

"And if there's any training to be done, every driver should take it," he said.

Under the existing rules, all taxi drivers are required to follow a code of conduct and complete a national standards certification program for taxi and limousine drivers administered by Nova Scotia Tourism.

The former taxi commission recommended the use of dashboard cameras more than a decade ago, but the idea was shelved because of privacy concerns, he said.

Still, Adams said mandatory cameras could be part of the solution, but only if they are made tamper-proof and always-on.

As well, all passengers should be encouraged to travel as part of a group and refrain from sitting in the front seat, he said.

"It's discouraging and it's disheartening ... (and) it's sad that it's come to that," Adams said. "But it's the reality we have to deal with right now."

Seven sexual assault cases since 2015

Other councillors have suggested that the city should get the province to regulate the industry.

Const. Alicia Joseph, a spokeswoman for Halifax Regional Police, said of the seven sexual assault cases involving cab drivers since 2015, one has been dropped at the request of the complainant.

Charges have been laid in one of the cases from earlier this year and two investigations have yet to be completed, she said.

All three cases in 2015 resulted in charges, which are now being processed through the courts.

She said it's always a good idea for passengers to take a photo of the number on the cab's roof light. Police also say it's good practice for passengers to speak to someone on a cellphone while they are en route.

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