“The Halifax taxi industry is in crisis after four alleged sexual assaults by drivers in three months have left customers frightened to take a cab, the head of a drivers’ association said Monday,” reports the Canadian Press:
“For it to get to the point where people are worried about taking a cab, and whether they will be sexually assaulted, that is a crisis,” said Buffett, a driver for 17 years and president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association.
Buffett said all cab drivers should be required to install dashboard cameras and participate in mandatory training to spell out the “dos and don’ts” of how to interact with passengers.
Halifax regional council, which regulates the industry, should make the issue a priority, but it is unlikely to do so, Buffett said.
The problem is that council is guided by a taxi liaison group and a six-member standing committee on transportation, which is also tasked with advising council about the region’s complex municipal transit system. As a result, taxi issues are often pushed to the side, he said.
I was a taxi driver for about five years when I lived in California, so I know a bit about the industry.
First, it’s dangerous: a buddy of mine, a fellow driver, was shot one night. He eventually recovered, but it was of course a traumatic and life-changing incident. Beyond the very real threat of being murdered, drivers have to put up with unruly and sometimes drug-crazed passengers and “runners,” and just being on the road for 12 hours a day is a danger.
I don’t know what the scene is like here in Halifax, but when I worked in California, the taxi industry was something of a Wild West situation. Drivers stole each other’s calls, and fist fights and worse between drivers were a regular occurrence.
And the whole point of the industry is to provide a necessary and important service: carrying around elderly people to their doctor appointments, ferrying the carless back from the grocery store, getting drunk people home safely, and simply being a transportation option when all else fails.
All of which is to say, the industry is too important to be left to the free market. For too long in Halifax there’s been the idea that if we simply deregulate, there’d be more cabs providing better service and lower costs. That’s just fantasy. It’s not how the world works.
The industry needs to be highly regulated. Drivers should be well-paid professionals and held accountable. Yes, training and testing should be stepped up, but so should inspections — so far as I know, there is never an inspector making random stops of cabs, making sure the cars are clean, the drivers sober, professionally dressed, and up-to-date on their paperwork.
Incidentally, Uber will make the situation worse. We have laws and regulations now that are supposed to prevent the worst sorts of behaviour — in reality they don’t, because there is zero enforcement, but once the industry is opened up to anyone with an Uber app, forget about it. Sexual assault will increase, and so will plain old discrimination — drivers will refuse to pick up people of colour or the time-consuming elderly, because nothing will prevent them from doing so.
Yes, the taxi commission should be revived, and it should be given the power to increase rates and driver pay. It should also employ inspectors who make random stops of drivers at night. Additionally, all cabs should be equipped with working cameras and GPS.
My advice for people taking cabs: always sit in the back seat, and let the driver do his or her job — drive. Just as passengers shouldn’t be talking to bus drivers, neither should they overly engage cab drivers; drivers should be paying attention to the road and not be a captive audience to someone’s need to be heard. I’d also suggest that before getting in a cab you take a photo of the roof light and text it to a friend.
2. Something for an empty briefcase
The Suspicious Packages returned for a Gottingen Street show yesterday. The band is getting tired, playing the same repetitive “Empty Briefcase” song.
Maybe I’m naive and not properly fearful of terrorists, but if I came across a briefcase sitting on the street, I’d pick it up and see if there was any identifying information on it, so I could return it to its owner. If not, I’d try to open it to see if maybe some papers inside had a name.
But if I did that, the cops wouldn’t be able to roll out the robot, and where’s the fun in that?
These incidents are so similar to each other — often near the military base, often a briefcase — that I’m beginning to think they’re a staged police event. For what purpose, I have no idea.
Here are the incidents I could find with a quick google search this morning:
April 2013: police closed Barrington Street after someone called in a suspicious package that turned out to be a briefcase full of bricks. This is the first use of the police robot, I think.
May 2013: a suspicious package full of something that vaguely looked electrical was discovered at the Halifax Shopping Centre, causing much mayhem and worry until a sheepish salesman explained that he had accidentally left his bag of hearing aids behind.
May 2013: a supsicious package is reported in a parking lot near Stadacona. I later wrote: “The very best in anti-terrorism technology — a water cannon-wielding robot! — is employed to blast the innocent bag someone left next to a car to smithereens. Freedumb!”
June 2014: unidentified package found near Dockyard
January 2015 a Cole Harbour neighbourhood and a Grand Desert street were shut down for fears that Christopher Phillips was stockpiling a dangerous chemical, osmium tetroxide. Phillips was subsequently acquitted of all charges; in a hearing, a chemist testified that the chemical could not be used as a weapon.
May 2015: a suspicious package that closed Robie Street turned out to be a suitcase full of clothes
September 2015: unidentified package exploded by military police at Rainbow Gate at HMC Dockyard.
Come to think of it, “Empty Briefcase” might make a good blues song — a man pretending to be an executive to impress a woman, but it’s all just show. Sort of an upscale version of “A Nickel and a Nail,” O. V. Wright’s song about a man so busted he jingles a nickel and a nail together in his pocket to make people think he’s still got coin:
“Donations for the Mother Canada[™] statue planned for Cape Breton fell sharply in 2015, even before Parks Canada pulled its support for the project,” reports Joan Weeks for the CBC. “Tax records for the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation show donations fell by more than 40 per cent from 2014 to 2015.”
It is interesting — and perhaps instructive — to compare the McNeil government’s stealth, stroke-of-a-pen, done-and-dusted announcement it had clawed back a basic human right (a minimum wage) for teenaged hockey players with its aw-shucks, no-rush, we-just-want-what-you-want chorus for last week’s release of a study on twinning the province’s 100-series highways.
“There aren’t many teenaged hockey players and few of them vote,” notes Kimber, who goes on to suggest that the ultra caution over the highway study signifies an election is at hand.
2. Cranky letter of the day
I have a couple of issues I’d like to discuss.
First of all, I am puzzled as to why the CBRM mayor and council have never said anything about the proposed container terminal in Melford, Guysborough Co.
Why do they continue with the dog-and-pony show regarding a proposed container terminal in the Port of Sydney knowing we will never make the grade.
Secondly, I believe the Donkin mine will never produce coal because the mining of coal is rapidly on the decline.
For instance, in December, the Chinese government announced it would not approve any new coal mines over the next three years and that it would shut more than 1,000 coal mines in 2016, taking out 60 million metric tons of unneeded capacity.
A month later, the world’s largest coal consumer announced it would invest $4.6 billion to close another 4,300 mines. Peabody Coal, the largest private coal producer, declared Chapter 11 and 50 other coal companies have also declared bankruptcy.
So where does Donkin sell this coal with the world of coal collapsing?
Glen Muise, Sydney
City Council (10am, City Hall) — here’s the agenda. These mid-summer council meetings tend to pack a lot in, as council catches up on its month-long early summer break and tries to get ahead before its month-long late summer break. I’ll be live-blogging the festivities via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
One issue that interest me is a zoning change that will allow construction of a four-storey, 41-unit apartment building at 8 Linden Lea in Dartmouth. This will entail tearing down a three-storey apartment building now on the site.
Linden Lea is the site of Dartmouth’s other, almost-secret duck pond. As I wrote back in 2014:
Linden Lea is a dead end street off Pleasant Street in Dartmouth, one block west of Old Ferry Road. It is a quirky neighbourhood with an almost rural sensibility just a stone’s throw from downtown Dartmouth: There are no sidewalks or curbs for most of the road, but there is an open road-side ditch, some old knotty trees, and a delightful lily-filled pond—this quiet respite is where the Sullivan Pond ducks hang out most of the time. The old city of Dartmouth had approved three apartment buildings and a couple of duplexes along the road, but past the pond six single family homes remain. The apartment buildings have seen the stress of time, but they provide a few dozen units of affordable housing along the Pleasant Street bus route and within walking distance to the ferry. One of the buildings is a dilapidated three-storey structure right across from the pond; the development proposal calls for tearing down that building and building a four-storey, 41-unit apartment building in its stead.
In the decades since the Linden Lea apartments were built, the surrounding neighbourhood took on an increasingly middle class sensibility, which in turn led to the adoption of planning and zoning codes that disallow the kind of building that is proposed. To get around those restrictions, the developer and staff are proposing that council take the extraordinary step of declaring the property an “opportunity site,” which would bypass the usual zoning restrictions. Such a step would involve consultations with neighbours.
If done right, these sorts of rebuildings can make sense and improve an area, but I have no idea what council will do with this, or what neighbours think of the proposal… I do know this: the developer didn’t tell the people in the apartment building that their homes may soon be torn down; that thankless chore indadvertedly fell to this hapless reporter while making small talk with residents enjoying the duck pond. [The developer] submitted this statement:
“The site’s close proximity to Downtown Dartmouth and the Ferry Terminal gives the project significance and merit to increasing density in support of policy N-5 goals. The design intent and theology behind the proposed development is to promote a greater neighbourhood and downtown lifestyle of green living targeted at a market for both young working professionals and families alike.”
Design theology? I realize planning and design circles have been infected by woo-woo and New Age nonsense, but this is the first time I’ve seen it directly referred to in God-like terms.
No public meetings.
Smart buildings, dumb people (10:30am, Slonim Conference Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Tsvi Kuflik, former head of the Information Systems Department at the University of Haifa, will speak on the potential of technology to support visitors in smart public buildings.
Allies Panel and Art for Equality (12pm, Haley 116, Ag Campus, Truro) — Panel discussion about the importance of having and being allies on campus, info about the Dal Allies program, painting on ceramic tiles, and a light lunch.
In the harbour
A slow day in the harbour. Currently scheduled:
10am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
That story I’ve been working on has sort of taken on a life of its own and is expanding…
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