Cab driver assaults triggers safety debate

Two drivers were assaulted by drunk passengers who refused to pay fare

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Two separate attacks on cab drivers this weekend have reopened debate on an ugly issue in London.

Early Sunday morning, two different cab drivers were assaulted by passengers who refused to pay. Initial reports claim in both cases, the passengers were intoxicated.

In the first case, a fare was picked up by an Aboutown cab driver at 1:55 a.m. at the corner of Pall Mall and Richmond streets. At some point as the vehicle was travelling north on Richmond, the male passenger was told to leave the vehicle. The passenger’s level of intoxication and inability to pay the fare may have factored into the driver’s decision.

The passenger accused the driver of stealing his money, threw his wallet at him and began punching the driver in the stomach and head, which forced the driver to drive into the opposite lane and hit the curb.

When police arrived at the scene the suspect was still there, and as a result James Laplante, 20, of London has been charged with assault and public intoxication. The driver was treated and released from hospital with minor injuries.

In the second case, a driver picked up a fare from Talbot Street, going to Western Road. During the trip, various racial slurs and insults were directed towards the driver, and it was made clear the fare would not be paid after the taxi arrived at the destination.

At this point a fight broke out, resulting in a passenger headbutting the driver, breaking the driver’s nose in the process. The London Police Service is still actively investigating the incident.

Both drivers lost two days of work following the incidents.

Constable Amy Phillipo, media representative for the LPS, said incidents of cabbie assault have come up more frequently.

“We have had in the past couple of months a couple of incidents where cabbies were robbed.”

London’s taxi customers will recognize the “safety lights,” a measure adopted after recommendations from a special taxi task force. Phillipo pointed out the lights cannot always help in the case of an assault.

“Cab drivers are very vulnerable, working late at night. That’s not to say the lights aren’t a good thing, they just won’t necessarily prevent an assault.

“Assaults normally happen very quickly and can’t be anticipated.”

Jamie Donnelley, vice-president of Aboutown, stressed that though drivers may appear vulnerable, they are never alone.

“The cars are equipped with GPS, emergency buttons, flashing lights ... Our response time to a driver is good and city police response time is exceptionally quick.

“There’s a misconception that a cab driver will have to take anyone into his car. That’s not the case,” Donnelley explained, adding a driver can evaluate any potential threat a person may become when determining who to pick up.

The fact that both fares were picked up close to Richmond Row after bar closing time has raised additional issues.

With hundreds of people exiting bars around 2 a.m. on the weekends, public safety can be a concern.

“I would like to get staggered closing [of bars],” Ward 13 councillor Judy Bryant said. “I also would like to see getting buses so that people can get home at the end of their evening.”

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