More from the News-Miner

This time it’s an opinion piece that mentions my father.

[Spoilers] Consider the cabbies
Driving a taxi is a dangerous business, even in Fairbanks.

This week’s killing of driver Michael Belknap, the second cab driver killed in Fairbanks in recent years, brings home the vulnerability of the taxi driver. True, most fares give drivers little trouble. But Fairbanks drivers routinely deal with a seedier sort: with belligerent drunks, with people who suddenly don’t have the money to pay at their destination, with criminals.

A 1996 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes it clear. Taxicab businesses had the nation’s highest rate of occupational homicide, at 41 per 100,000 for 1990 to 1992, up sharply from the previous study period of 1980 to 1989. The newer figure is nearly 60 times the national average. Robbery, as appears to be the case with the killing of Mr. Belknap, is often the primary motive.

The risk factors are all there: Cabbies work alone, work late, exchange money with the public, and often are called to out-of-the-way places. The operations manager for Eagle/Yellow Cab, the company for which Mr. Belknap was driving at the time of his killing, acknowledged the dangers of the business and said drivers know it, too.

The CDC has suggested some ideas for reducing homicides among cab drivers and workers in other high-risk professions. In Alaska, state law does not require any such protective measures, but the municipality of Anchorage acted a few years ago to improve taxi driver safety after three drivers were murdered in early 1998.

Anchorage municipal code requires that every cab have an emergency switch that an endangered driver can press to send a distress signal to his company’s dispatch center. In addition, each cab must have one of the following items: a Plexiglas partition between the front and rear seats, a global positioning system unit so that the company’s dispatch center knows the whereabouts of the taxi or a hidden camera that regularly takes and stores electronic images of activity inside the vehicle.

The system isn’t without its difficulties. The plastic partitions have proved too expensive, according to an Anchorage city official, since they do not transfer easily between vehicles. That’s a problem since taxis are often involved in accidents or in the shop for repairs. GPS units can be disabled by an attacker intent on a crime.

Even so, it’s something.

By comparison, Fairbanks has no such safety requirements. The city aims only to ensure the safety of the passenger by conducting background checks of those who have applied for a taxi license and by requiring annual updates of drivers.

Although requiring safety measures such as those Anchorage has implemented would be an added cost for Fairbanks taxi companies–perhaps even putting some out of business–the Fairbanks City Council should begin the discussion of imposing such requirements in this city.

City files show 485 people licensed to drive cab in Fairbanks. Mr. Belknap’s death leaves 484 who might want a safer cab. [/Spoilers]

You all know the drill by now, use the spoilers link above, or view the original article at the link below. In case you’re wondering about why I’m bothering to repost here if I’m just going to link to the original articles anyway, it’s because I want to make sure the text is still available. The News-Miner only guarantees articles will remain online for fourteen days.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Fairbanks, AK

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Robert Belknap has been writing online sporadically since 2001. See the colophon for more details.

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