Five years ago the city of Toronto made a foolish decision of killing the idea of requiring all Toronto taxi's to have mandatory shields. The then chairman of the licensing and standards committee -- Councillor Howard Mascoe -- believed that the "mandatory shields would convey a terrible image of Toronto to tourists."
Earlier this week Toronto's licensing and Standards Committee Chairman Councillor Cesar Palacio's not only ordered the city to examine mandatory shields but also for the implementation of pre-payments or deposits in late hours via credit or debit cards. The local politician believes this would allow drivers to carry less or no cash making them a less attractive victim.
The Councillor compared the pre-payment scheme as those that are used in hotel rooms, public transit and gasoline services in Toronto -- where payment is rendered before service. In his proposal -- he reflected how "fare jumping has been an on-going problem in the taxi Industry which has led to a loss of revenue, and in some cases, violent altercations which have placed taxi drivers in serious danger." Indeed.
He continued how "critics argue protective shields are unsightly or unnecessary, studies in other cities have demonstrated that they reduce instances of violence against drivers by more than 50 per cent." Ditto.
This was a reaction to an incident of a taxi driver in Toronto was stabbed, robbed and run over by customers. Since then - the driver has reflected how a shield would have prevented all the abuse he suffered. According to the CBC: "he was the third (known) taxi driver to be assaulted in a past week". However, I beg to differ as I often hear of many incidents that are never reported by taxi drivers to the appropriate authorities.
I wish the proposal was successful five years ago and it was not. I hope it will be this year. The cost of such a shield can cost about $3000. However, no money should be expensive in the protection of our citizens especially for such a dangerous profession. The police enjoys a shield privilege in their cars and why not our taxi drivers?
In Winnipeg, for instance, a surcharge was placed with taxi fares to cover the costs. In Toronto, we can implement the same idea.
Had Toronto implemented such a policy it sure would have benefited my friend Naser Kaid as well. Naser is a university-educated taxi driver who has been driving a taxi since he graduated from Carleton University in Computer Math a decade ago. A few days ago he picked up a customer from down town and took them to Mississauga. He was excited as he was about to earn a hefty pay -- so he thought. Driving taxis has not been as rewarding as he thought as Kaid usually barely earns enough to support his family here in Toronto and abroad.
For Kaid, the journey to Mississauga was not pleasant. Not only did his young customers call him racist names and spit on him but punched him before they decided to run away without paying him.
He was frustrated but his experience was no different than most of his colleagues. He never complained to the police as he believed that he would be no priority to them. Instead he went back to work picking up total strangers as customers and made the most he could that day in order to pay for gas, for the lease of the plate that charges him $80 per day. At the end , he earned about $60 as his take home pay. Taxi driving in one of the most dangerous and two-tier low-paying jobs in Toronto.
In Toronto it has often been said the safest place to be sick or have smart intellectual conversations is perhaps inside a taxi. Most are highly educated foreigners with credentials from abroad and even within Canada but have not had luck with employment opportunities in Canada.
That is why I welcome Councillor Cesar Palacio's decision to protect these valuable citizens from harm by having protective shields in the near future as a start. They deserve all the support they need and their safety should be everyone's priority including their local government.
I hope the idea of protective shields happen before a single life is forever lost.