New safety measures are coming to City Cab taxis following the on-duty death of a longtime driver earlier this month.
Wearable “panic buttons,” will be distributed to taxi drivers employed by the company in the next three to four weeks, said City Cab general manager Shirley McGrath.
The introduction of what McGrath calls a “very simple” device, which emits a loud, attention-grabbing noise when activated in emergencies, comes in the wake of Ahmed Mahamud Ali’s death while on the job.
Ali, who had driven for the company on and off for more than 20 years, was pronounced dead in the early hours of Nov. 19 after being found unconscious in the backseat of his cab outside of Stanton Territorial Hospital.
Elias Schiller, 18, and James Schiller, 49, are both charged with murder in connection with Ali’s death.
A week after his death, City Cab board of directors met to consider possible policy changes and new safety measures, deciding to doll out panic buttons to drivers as a result, said McGrath.
The panic buttons can be attached to key chains or lanyards, she added.
Along with the new devices, McGrath said changes will be coming to in-car software.
To improve the ineffective “emergency signals” currently installed on drivers’ tablets, McGrath said software will be updated to include a one-touch button. Emergency signals send alerts to dispatch, while the panic button will not.
McGrath told Yellowknifer the implementation of in-cab cameras, barriers and other precautions were on the table during the meeting.
While the board didn’t decide to implement mandatory cameras, a feature McGrath called “more of a deterrent than anything,” she said drivers are free to install cameras at their own cost and that cabbies don’t need to seek permission from MED in doing so.
While barriers between drivers and passengers were considered, McGrath said they ultimately weren’t deemed to be viable.
Seat belts were also on the agenda.
McGrath said some of her employees have pushed for a seat belt exemption – adopted in other jurisdictions – to reduce the risk of harm while on the road. While belts offer safety in the event of collisions, she said they can also be used to choke drivers in the event of an assault, and can prevent a driver from escaping a dangerous situation.
An exemption would require changes to NWT law. McGrath said she’s currently researching ways to effectively lobby for an amendment.
Increased rates for fares, as a safety measure, are also being sought, said McGrath.
A week before Ali’s death, McGrath said the company sent a letter to the City of Yellowknife asking for a rate boost.
“The drivers are having to work much longer hours in order to have the same kind of income, meantime the cost of living has gone up,” said McGrath.
Faced with rates out of step with the cost of living, McGrath said drivers are more inclined to pick up impaired or hostile passengers, putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations, in order to make as much money as they can.
If rates increased, she said drivers wouldn’t feel pressure to pick up fares that could put them at risk.
As it stands, the “flag” or starting rate for City Cab fares is $4.50, a base rate that increases by 20 cents every 100 metres travelled. McGrath declined to say how much of a rate increase the company is seeking
To commemorate the life of Ali, McGrath said a memorial procession, featuring “as many (cab) drivers that are on the road,” is planned for next week.
The procession, which will be book-ended by MED vehicles, will proceed through Yellowknife from the community arena along Franklin Avenue to Rotary Park.
The procession is planned for Monday at 12 p.m.
The slated show of support from the taxi cab community comes after Yellowknife’s Muslim community rallied to raise over $10,000 to cover funeral costs for Ali.