Partnership takes steps to ensure safe taxi rides
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Hailed by its proponents as a “first-of-its-kind” agreement, a new partnership promises to help ensure safe taxi rides for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people.
Local taxi companies, the City of Winnipeg’s vehicles-for-hire department (which regulates taxi, ride-hailing and limousine companies) and an action group jointly promised key changes toward that goal Monday.
The action group includes several Indigenous women, who all see a first-hand need for improvement, said member Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais.
“All of us, over the years, have somehow had negative experiences (during cab rides)… We are committed to (doing) our part to bring about real change.”
A “statement of commitment” outlines a few key steps forward, including: hiring an independent advocate to become a “safe” person who accepts complaints over vehicles for hire rides and helps resolve issues; adding more training for current and future vehicle-for-hire drivers (including historical teachings from an Indigenous perspective and sensitivity courses); and providing restorative justice options to address disputes when incidents do take place.
Robinson-Desjarlais said steps to improve safety are urgently needed, noting many Indigenous people have reported experiencing violence, racism or other types of abuse during cab rides. She said adding an advocate would make it easier for such complaints to be reported.
“There’s fear, there’s shame, there’s (a worry that) ‘nobody’s going to believe me, nobody’s going to hear me out or listen to me anyway’… If you have a safe person that comes from the same walk of life as you (it’s easier to report),” said Robinson-Desjarlais.
She noted the group would prefer an Indigenous woman be hired to become the advocate.
While Monday’s announcement focused on cab companies, Robinson-Desjarlais said she expects the changes will be extended to other transportation companies in the future.
“There’s fear, there’s shame, there’s (a worry that) ‘nobody’s going to believe me, nobody’s going to hear me out or listen to me anyway’… If you have a safe person that comes from the same walk of life as you (it’s easier to report).”–Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais
Cab safety was thrust into the spotlight in the spring, as city council debated new fines to penalize misconduct among vehicles-for-hire drivers.
At the time, multiple women shared allegations about sexual harassment, lewd comments and/or being asked for early payment during some cab rides. They argued the new fines should be approved right away to better protect female riders.
Council eventually approved a series of $250 fines, should a driver commit certain offences, including sexual harassment, demanding a tip or asking for collateral toward a fare.
At the time, several First Nations advocates noted a large number of vulnerable Indigenous people rely on taxis, making them especially at risk of experiencing problems.
A local industry leader said the commitments made Monday should be seen as a step toward reconciliation.
“We are here today to show our commitment to bring on reconciliation… We have listened, now we must act in partnership to bring about real change to ensure the safest possible transportation for Indigenous people,” said Rajwant Brar, president of the board for Duffy’s Taxi.
While all parties agreed on the initial actions, work is still needed on decisions to implement them, such as whether the city or the cab industry would hire and fund an advocate.
However, all sides are on board with the idea, said Grant Heather, Winnipeg manager of vehicles for hire.
“It’s a firm commitment from the companies to put something in place. They could set up their own position, with or without the city,” said Heather, noting a city investment would require council approval.
He said training changes fall under his department’s authority. He stressed any restorative justice options to address complaints would add to, not replace, city fines and penalties for misconduct.
“There (are) absolutely no plans at this time to change any of the disciplinary options that exist in the bylaw,” said Heather.
The action group involved in the partnership does not yet have a formal name, which it plans to obtain through a traditional ceremony.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.