Winnipeg cab drivers are concerned provincial regulators are not keeping track of a growing number of serious attacks against cabbies.
According to the Manitoba Taxi Cab Board's response to a freedom-of-information request, records of assaults against cabbies "do not exist."
But although they have no statistics on the number of attacks on cabbies, the board has made various safety recommendations, including making partial shields mandatory in cabs in January 2011. The shields cost cab owners approximately $400 to install.
Unicity Taxi manager Andrew Ross said the lack of any official assault records for the 440 cabs currently serving the city is frustrating. Ross said the taxi industry, the taxi board and police need to work together now more than ever because of the increased risks that drivers are facing.
There is little available information that highlights the kind of dangers drivers face on a daily basis, Ross said, and some drivers have completely given up on reporting incidents because often nothing seems to come of it.
"It seems like driver safety is getting much worse. There are incidents a couple times a day. We recently had an incident where a passenger pulled a syringe on a driver. It's very disturbing what we see," Ross said.
In an incident that drew headlines earlier this year, the lone passenger in a cab driving on Beverley Street allegedly stabbed the driver in the stomach on Sept. 20, sending the car crashing into a tree. The driver was sent to hospital and the passenger, Jackson Muminawatum Jr., of Norway House, died of his injuries.
The Manitoba Taxi Cab Board said it does not keep records because the Winnipeg Police Service does not differentiate between assaults on cab drivers and assaults against those in any other profession, so there are no official figures available.
Board chairman Bruce Buckley said one of the reasons the records don't exist is because there isn't full co-operation between the board and cab owners.
"Because the Winnipeg Police Service doesn't differentiate, we have to rely on reports from within the industry," he said. "But there are very few reports that come forward to us from the drivers."
The taxi board recently recommended drivers get full protective shields in their cabs that would fully encase the front seat, as the current partial shields do not completely protect drivers. The board also recommended passengers no longer be permitted in the front seat, but the taxicab industry rejected the idea.
"The board does as much as it can to protect the drivers, but we need the full co-operation of the industry, and we just don't have it," Buckley said.
Gurmail Mangat, a taxi driver since 1981 and current president of Unicity Taxi's board of directors, said although Winnipeg is fairly safe, drivers are afraid to service some neighbourhoods.
"We've identified certain areas," said Mangat. "The North End, the West End, we know what areas are dangerous. During the day, it is usually no problem, but in the night we have problems serving those areas."
Mangat's own cab was damaged last year when his night driver refused to take five passengers in his four-passenger cab. One of the passengers angrily dented the outside of the cab.
Mangat said he believes it's time for the taxi board to find a way to keep records of driver safety.
"We need a conclusion somewhere. We need a way to monitor and keep records so we know how many incidents and what kind of incidents. That is where the taxi board can help us. They have a means, they have an office. They can do it. They are the regulators," Mangat said.
Allison Bench and Dave Baxter are students in Red River College's Creative Communications program.
With the help of Free Press staff, students in Red River College's Creative Communications program learn how to mine freedom of information legislation for stories. At the start of the school year, students submit access to information requests. Over the next several weeks, the Free Press will publish some of the stories students wrote based on their requests. Visit wfp.to/opensecrets to see them all.