Cabbies face local ire

Monica Sharma

Taxi drivers, who are usually immigrants in Australia, seem to be at the receiving end of the locals’ ire. At least three incidents of attack on cabbies have been reported in the past one month. In one of the incidents, a taxi driver of Indian origin in Brisbane suffered serious head injuries after an attack by three men. He was left unconscious on the roadside. In another incident, a 65-year-old Punjabi taxi driver was attacked after he took on the passenger for not paying the fare.

In Australia, the majority of cab drivers are immigrants and they work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The attacks on cabbies have once again raised concerns about their safety. Many cab drivers work odd hours.  Even though CCTV cameras are installed in the cabs, the cabbies are demanding stringent measure for their safety. 

They are demanding a proper government policy to ensure their safety. Safety has been a major issue with cabbies for long as there have been attacks in the past as well. Reasons include dispute over fare or misbehaviour by the passengers.

Manjit Boparai, a social activist and taxi operator for the past 22 years, says, “The taxi drivers, be it immigrants or Australians, all are susceptible to these attacks. My advice to cabbies is not to enter into a scuffle with passengers who argue and are reluctant to pay the fare. Life is more important than anything else.”

“The attacks sometimes happen due to miscommunication because of the language barrier. Most taxi drivers work late on weekends. To avoid clashes, they should display upfront that fare should be paid in advance to rule out any disputes afterwards.”

Boparai and others have started a fundraising campaign to help the driver who was attacked in Brisbane on December 23. He wants strict laws so that cabbies can work without fear.

He says the 35-year-old driver who was attacked in Brisbane, tried to drive away but the attackers pulled him out of the car and punched him. The driver managed to send distress signal following which police reached the spot.

In another incident on December 27, a 65-year-old taxi driver in Adelaide was attacked by a passenger who allegedly refused to pay him the fare. When the cab driver, Amrik Thandi, asked for $35 fare, the passenger walked away without paying. When Thandi asked for the fare again, a scuffle ensued. The passenger then escaped. 

Thandi, who is a committee member of the taxi council of South Australia, says, “I am disappointed with the police the way it has handled my complaint. The police are yet to take the CCTV footage from me. No political party takes our issues seriously.”

Thandi, who has been driving taxis for the past 34 year, feels the attacks on taxi drivers and their safety are not a priority for the authorities. “I have held many meetings with ministers and taken up our concerns but to no avail. Even though the law is very strict when it comes to attacking transport workers, the attacks blatantly continue.” The attacks have scared and discouraged many cab drivers, who feel forced to leave the profession. Thandi recalls how a month ago another a rowdy customer had pulled a screwdriver on him.

Yet another cab driver from Punjab was attacked in Adelaide in December. A passenger hurled a brick through his car window and threatened him with a screwdriver in an attempt to rob him. 

In August, a taxi driver of Punjabi origin was attacked in Perth and his car stolen. 

The taxi drivers claim that though attacks on them are happening regularly for the past several years, still nothing concrete has been done. All of them demand proper laws and regulations for their safety. Are the authorities listening?