Saskatoon·Video

Saskatoon taxi drivers want city to force cabs to have flashing emergency lights

Cab drivers are calling on Saskatoon city councillors to legally mandate the installation of flashing emergency lights to make riding around the city safer for drivers.

Call comes after push for mandatory safety shields failed to gain city support

Malik Umar Draz, a Saskatoon taxi driver and president of a union local representing about 200 drivers in the city, says the cost of the lights should be secondary to the safety of drivers. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Cab drivers are calling on Saskatoon city councillors to legally mandate the installation of flashing emergency lights to make riding around the city safer for drivers.

The call comes after a similar safety-minded proposal — the mandatory addition of customer-separating shields in taxis — failed to gain the city's support.

"If they do the same thing as the city did in the previous safety shield [request] — making it optional — that will not help," said Malik Umar Draz, the president of United Steelworkers Local 2014, which represents about 200 taxi drivers in the city.

"Some owners [did] not like to install safety shields."

But changing the city's bylaw to make it mandatory for cabs to have exterior flashing lights — which are armed by drivers during emergencies and are visible to other drivers, passersby and police officers — would "save the drivers from the offenders," said Draz. 

He points to cities like Toronto and Winnipeg which have made such lights a legal requirement, and says they would serve as a backup for panic buttons, which he says aren't always feasible.

"The offender can see that button," he said. "If there's amber flashing lights, that way the offender is not able to see plus the driver will get help from the public as well as the police."

Who will pay?

He says cab companies should foot the bill for the lights, which he said are much cheaper than safety shields. 

"That's a broker's responsibility. That's the employer's responsibility to provide the safe working environments on the job."

A spokesperson for Comfort Cab, the company Draz drives for, could not be reached for comment.

But Carlo Triolo, a manager at The United Group, which owns three Saskatoon cab companies, said Sunday the proposal took him by surprise.

"I'm baffled at how something like this is being proposed to city council without any knowledge," said Triolo.

"We're simply a broker. I'm not funding somebody else's business. That doesn't make sense.

"It's their franchise. It's their business."

An example of an exterior cab sign alerting other drivers and passersby to a cab's emergency lighting system. (City of Saskatoon)

Triolo said that safety shield proposal similarly took individual cab franchise owners by surprise.

"You had drivers — hired drivers by franchise owners — pushing for a shield that costs $8,000 that a franchise owner was not prepared to invest in, as well as had no knowledge of," he said.

High crime rate

Draz said safety measures like lights are needed "in a city where it has more crime ratio unfortunately."

Triolo responded that those rates don't address crime in cabs.

"One would have to actually look at those crime rates in regards to taxis to determine that, and I don't feel that anybody has," Triolo said.

"Internally, through our broker, if I look at those numbers, they're almost non-existent."

Debate in the province about taxi driver safety has intensified in recent months after Iqbal Singh Sharma, a Regina driver, spent a month in intensive care after being stabbed in November 2016.

Saskatoon councillors sitting on the Standing Policy Committee on Transportation will be presented with a letter from Draz about the lights on Tuesday afternoon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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