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Halifax taxis turn to tech 

Cab companies using GPS and apps, considering video cameras after spate of dangerous incidents

click to enlarge Ali, a Casino Taxi driver, waits for customers at a cab stand in downtown Halifax. - HILARY BEAUMONT
  • Ali, a Casino Taxi driver, waits for customers at a cab stand in downtown Halifax.
  • Hilary Beaumont

After a series of scary cab reports in Halifax this month, taxi companies are turning to tech to increase safety for passengers and drivers. Several local cab services are using GPS and apps to locate cabs and record customer feedback, and one company is pushing for video cameras in its cars.

Last week two passengers threatened to beat a Yellow Cab driver unless he handed over the keys to his taxi. The driver jumped out and the pair drove away in his cab. The company was able to quickly locate the car using GPS and the suspected carjackers were arrested nearby.

In reaction to the incident, Yellow Cab has decided its drivers should install video cameras inside their cabs.

"For us it was a wake up call," general manager Majid Latif says of the carjacking incident. "It was like, holy hell, wake up."

Police say incidents like this are rare, however Latif says cameras would act as a deterrent and increase surveillance in the small number of cases that drivers and passengers act inappropriately.

The cab-jacking was one of several unsafe incidents involving taxis in the last couple months. In July, a woman posted on harassment-collating website Hollaback Halifax that a cab driver wolf-whistled at her as she was walking to her car in a grocery store parking lot, and when she drove home he followed her. The Coast reached out to the woman for comment but did not hear back.

On August 19 a cab driver grabbed a female passenger's bottom as she was leaving his taxi. And earlier this month in downtown Halifax, a man harassed and grabbed Charlene Mills after a Casino Taxi driver refused to take her home to Dartmouth.

Mills says there should be better enforcement of Casino's policy that states a driver should never refuse a fare. "If I had gotten a taxi he never would have advanced on me at all," she says of her attacker.

Mills reported the incident to Casino over Twitter, but the company says it wasn't able to locate the driver because she didn't know the cab number.

Cab companies The Coast spoke to say enforcement of bylaws and policies is only possible if a customer reports an incident and the company is able to locate the driver.

At the time the driver turned Mills down, Casino's GPS locater showed a handful of cabs in the area. The company can only track pings from its cars every 400 metres, so it wasn't possible to pinpoint the offending driver, president Brian Herman says. Casino met with drivers who were in the area and all denied involvement.

Herman says the company is looking into a better GPS system, and adds passengers can view the driver's name and car model when they book a cab with the app. Customers can also give driver feedback through the app, he says, though that information is for Casino's eyes only.

A new car service in Halifax, Uber, takes the idea of driver feedback a step further. The popular US company, which allows customers to view a driver's ratings on its app before booking them, made headlines in the US this summer for its drivers allegedly sexually assaulting women. Company representative Jeff Weshler says the Uber app isn't as anonymous as a typical cab service, and increases accountability in the industry.

Yellow Cab's app doesn't allow customers to send driver feedback. Due to privacy concerns the company will not be making driver information public, Latif explains.

Yellow Cab is looking into the cost of providing video cameras to its entire fleet at a subsidized rate for drivers. Latif says cameras could be in cabs by December.

Currently, video cameras are not mandated in local cabs, and such a rule would have to be added to the city's taxi bylaw. In 2006, HRM surveyed cab drivers about adding video cameras and plexiglass barriers to their cars, and the answer was a resounding no.

Mills says video cameras and GPS would likely protect passengers, however she isn't sure how effective they would be in cases where cabbies drive off the books to make extra cash.

The Coast contacted A-Cab and Bob's Taxi for this story, but no one was available for comment. —Hilary Beaumont


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