Some Taxi Drivers Search for Ways to Make the Night Shift Safer

Ismail Daramola’s taxi sits third in line at the St Stephen’s Green rank and he nudges the cab forward as the lines moves up.

Day shifts like this one on a Monday afternoon are reasonably safe. It’s the night shifts that are hazardous, says Daramola, who has been driving a taxi for seven years.

There’s more money in the early-hours runs, though – even if sometimes, some passengers skip out on paying fares. Or shout, and swear, or punch and kick.

“I’ve a friend who was attacked from behind,” says Daramola, as he holds an imaginary knife in his left hand and slices at his throat. “Lucky for him, it didn’t get through to his oesophagus.”

The dangers of night-time pick-ups mean that Daramola and others are looking at extra precautions when on the job. More CCTV perhaps, or partition screens.

“We need more protection,” says Daramola.

“What Can You Do?”

“But we’ll end up paying for it,” says John Byrne, leaning against his taxi’s bonnet as he soaks up the 20-degree heat on Monday afternoon.

He’s chatting with another driver, Richard Murphy. Both are regulars at the St Stephen’s Green rank. Byrne has driven taxis for 18 years, Murphy for 14, including a stint in New York City.

Abuse? Assault? Sheer bloody nuisance? Sure, they all occur, says Murphy. But that’s part of the job, as he sees it. “You just get on with it. Get your week’s wages and get out,” says Byrne.

Or not. Last week, for instance, Byrne picked up a “bogey fare”. Two lads headed to Darndale hopped out upon arrival and ran, leaving Byrne €23 short.

“They’re gone. Unless you want to get out and scrap with them. So what can you do? What can you do?” says Byrne.

“What can you do?” says Murphy.

Nowadays, many taxi drivers in Dublin have CCTV, but that only goes so far, he says.

Before attacking a taxi driver, Murphy says, people often go straight for the camera. So there’s no record of the assault. “They know what they’re doing,” he says.

That’s starting to change, however.

Staying Open

New technology has made work safer for taxi drivers, says Joe Herron, president of the Irish Taxi Drivers’ Federation (ITDF).

Violence towards drivers isn’t widespread, Herron says. But it does happen “and it can be quite horrendous”.

Neither An Garda Síochána nor the Central Statistics Office had statistics for incidents of violence involving taxi drivers.

Taxi drivers tend not to publicise cases of thefts or when they’re attacked, either. “Then it makes it look easy,” says Herron.

Some taxi drivers in Dublin have opted for CCTV cameras that automatically upload in-car footage. “So even if someone steals your camera, what is recorded has already been stored on the cloud,” says Herron.

But the cost is an issue. That kind of camera can cost €900, plus a €150 annual monitoring charge, says Herron. “That’s not cheap.”

That’s the “modern-day equivalent” of a partition screen, which in some taxis in London or New York, say, would serve as a buffer between passenger and driver.

Although in widespread use throughout the late 1970s, not many drivers want those these days, says Herron. “Screens take away from what we are. We’re conversationalists.”

Making It Mandatory

The National Transport Authority (NTA) looked at whether or not taxi drivers wanted mandatory security measures back in 2015.

Ireland’s taxi industry “has an almost unique set of characteristics”, notes the report from the NTA, which regulates taxis.

Taxi drivers work around the clock and work are alone, so they are vulnerable. In recent years, threats of violence and to personal security have increased.

But in their submissions to the NTA, drivers showed little appetite for mandatory security measures like partitions. Of the 2,649 submissions the organisation received, 97.3 percent said safety equipment in vehicles like taxis shouldn’t be mandatory.

Partitions could lead to a “perception of poor customer service”, the report says, and that is “a risk which would ruin the reputation of the sociable Irish driver”.

Alan Brennan, secretary of  (TTnH), agrees. “Many of the lads felt that a partition went too far,” he says. “They felt it didn’t reflect well.”

Taxi drivers also rejected the idea of making mandatory other measures, such as CCTV, largely due to cost.

That’s still an issue for taxi drivers in Dublin, says Brennan of TTnH. Equipment is expensive, which means some taxi drivers choose to forgo it, even if it means more risk.

Brennan says he tried to persuade AXA Insurance, one of the major taxi insurers, to consider knocking €100 off policies for taxi drivers who had installed the system.

“But they didn’t seem interested,” he says.

Horror Stories

Extra tech might help limit theft or violence, says Herron of the ITDF.

But he also sees conversation as a way to keep safe. “I think it’s less likely you’ll be assaulted if you have some type of relationship with the passenger,” says Herron.

Taxi drivers who have been decades in the trade have picked up their own ways of dealing with threats.

“I’ve been attacked so I steer away from late nights as much as I can these days,” says Alan Davis, who was sat parked on the curb of Sean McDermott Street last Friday.

“I’ve a brother-in-law, two years ago, who was attacked by a guy with a knife,” says Davis who has been a tax driver for more than 29 years.

If somebody is desperate enough, there is little that preventative measures can do, says Davis. “What I do now is I go with my gut,” he says.

If a passenger seems dangerous, he will drive them to the most public spot he can think of  – O’Connell Street or Dame Street – and ask them to get out.

Davis says he “totally understands” other taxi drivers wanting to put safety measures in place. “I’d a friend in Clondalkin who was hijacked, thrown in the boot and driven around,” he says. “There’s some horror stories.”

At the St Stephen’s Green rank on Monday afternoon, Daramola reaches the top of the queue.

He says he thinks it would be better for Dublin taxi drivers to have partition screens in their cabs, similar to those in New York’s yellow cabs or London’s black cabs.

“I really think we should be given more protection,” he says.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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