Yellowknife's City Cab to install panic buttons in vehicles after driver's death

The company plans to make it easier for drivers to send an emergency signal to dispatch through their tablets, and is buying panic alarm buttons for all City Cab vehicles, general manager Shirley McGrath told CBC News.

Drivers also plan to lobby the territorial government to loosen seatbelt laws for taxis

City Cab in Yellowknife is making changes in hopes that it will help cab drivers feel safer on the job. (CBC)

Yellowknife's City Cab taxi company is introducing new safety measures after one of its drivers was killed on the job.

The company plans to make it easier for drivers to send an emergency signal to dispatch through their tablets, and is buying panic alarm buttons for all City Cab vehicles, general manager Shirley McGrath told CBC News.

The hidden panic button will let out a loud sound when hit and is supposed to attract the attention of passersby.

Drivers' safety got renewed attention last month after City Cab driver Ahmed Mahamud Ali was found unconscious in the back of the taxi he had been driving. He was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

Two men have been charged with murder in connection to Ali's death.  

Since then, drivers have been pushing for change.

Drivers plan to lobby the government of the Northwest Territories to amend the laws surrounding seatbelts, said Kareem Yalahow, City Cab's vice-president.

In Toronto and Vancouver, drivers are not always required to wear a seatbelt when transporting a fare.

They are the frontline workers. We need that kind of priority.- Kareem Yalahow, vice-president City Cab

A seatbelt makes it harder to escape from a dangerous situation, said Yalahow, and it can be used to choke drivers. Yellowknife cab drivers want similar exemptions, he said.

Taxi drivers serve people at their most vulnerable — when they are intoxicated, ill, injured and lost — and their security should be a top priority, said Yalahow.

The community at large must start thinking about cab drivers as frontline workers, he said.

"If a police [officer] is abused, the punishment is higher — they are the frontline workers. We need that kind of priority," said Yalahow, who is also a driver.

"When a driver is robbed and beaten, it has to be a priority. The punishment has to be higher."

Requesting higher taxi fares

The day Ali was killed, cab drivers had planned to approach the city about raising the base fare and meter rates.

"But this incident happened and we decided to postpone everything else we were doing," Yalahow said.

McGrath, the company's general manager, said City Cab has applied for a "moderate increase" to the base fare and meter rate, but would not specify the amount.

Taxi rates are set by the city, said McGrath, and prices haven't gone up in close to a decade.

She said a rate hike could help make the job safer because if cab drivers make more money, they might be less inclined to pick up seemingly suspicious customers.

"Apart from putting people on par with matching the cost of living, it might make them less concerned about collecting a fare," said McGrath.

The current rate is $4.50, plus 20 cents for every 100 metres.

McGrath said City Cab looked at rates in Whitehorse and the company is asking for a lower rate than the one there.