N.L. Taxi Alliance says pedestrians, drivers can both do more to avoid collisions

Doug McCarthy, a St. John's cab driver, has a few suggestions to try to ensure a weekend of three pedestrian-taxi collisions doesn't happen again.

'I'll be the first to admit there are people out there that are driving taxis that ... shouldn't be driving'

Taxi driver Doug McCarthy says uninsured, unlicenced drivers are a road hazard. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

A taxi driver in St. John's — who is also part of the Newfoundland and Labrador Taxi Alliance — says it's "terrible" that this weekend recorded three collisions between cabs and pedestrians and says there are actions both groups can take to reduce the risk. 

"In the downtown core, especially in the late hours of night, I am honestly surprised that this doesn't happen every weekend with the way that people run out from the sidewalks to try to get into a taxi," says Doug McCarthy of Jiffy Cabs, and also the media relations officer for the organization of taxi owners and operators.

For starters, McCarthy said, some city infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired.

"Crosswalks aren't really that well-lit in this city. And some of the crosswalk locations are a bit dubious. You know, as you come around the bend, there's a crosswalk," he told CBC's On the Go.

The scene of one weekend accident involving a taxi and a pedestrian on New Gower Street in St. John's, near City Hall. (Kirk DeHart)

He said weather, location and how much someone has to drink and their subsequent judgment are all factors that sometimes converge on a too-close call.

Not to mention ignorance, argued McCarthy.

"For some reason or another, St. John's seems to be the jaywalking capital of the world," he said.

Drivers to blame, too

When asked specifically what he makes of the criticism that taxi drivers are some of the worst drivers on the roads, McCarthy doesn't shy away. 

"Any criticism if it's valid is fair, and I'll be the first to admit there are people out there that are driving taxis that should go back to driving school or shouldn't be driving at all," he said.

Recently, the provincial government allocated $52,000 in an attempt to get better drivers on the road and improve the public's image of the industry.

McCarthy said last month that the money will go toward first aid, sensitivity and driver training, and it will be administered by the Department of Advanced Education and Skills

McCarthy says some crosswalks in St. John's and surrounding areas are not well-lit. (CBC)

So, how can taxi companies weed out drivers?

"Unfortunately right now, it's just a matter of attrition," said McCarthy, who says word-of-mouth about problematic drivers makes its way around industry circles.

He says the threat of wrongful dismissal lawsuits hangs over companies, but a majority of the law-abiding and safe taxi drivers are trying to weed out the problem ones "whether it be through driver education or driver training."

Money talks

McCarthy said requiring an up-to-date driver's abstract is crucial, since a would-be driver will often provide one that doesn't show the full picture. 

He said there can be a difference between the records issued by the province versus the insurance companies.

"If I want to put you behind the wheel of my car and I find out to do that it's going to cost me $8,000 or $10,000 more a year because of your driving record, then I'm not going to hire you," he said.

"That's about the only way right now to effectively eliminate people that should not be driving taxis as a profession — is based on their driver's abstract and what it will cost me to have you insured on my vehicle."

McCarthy, who works with Jiffy Cabs, says it sometimes isn't easy to root out problem drivers in any cab company. (Paula Gale/CBC)

He said all incidents on the roads aren't the fault of taxi drivers, but he said they are easy targets. 

"You know the old saying one bad apple can spoil a barrel? Well, unfortunately in this case, one bad driver can spoil a company's reputation," he said.
"And until we can find a way to eliminate the people who should not be behind the wheels of taxis, we will continue sometimes to be painted by a bad brush."

With files from On the Go and Ariana Kelland