Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Responses to the Problem of Robbery of Taxi Drivers

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The taxi industry is often regulated by an agency within local government, by an independent commission, or by the police. These bodies set fares and limit the number of licenses permitted within particular areas, as well as control the conditions of vehicles and monitor the behavior of drivers. Often the jurisdictional boundaries between these regulatory agencies and police are not clear to everyone affected. The problem is compounded if the regulatory agency does not deploy inspectors during the late night or early evening hours. The police may be called upon to act in areas for which they have little training. They may be asked by drivers to resolve complaints that are civil, rather than criminal in nature–such as fare evasion in some locations. Taxis may operate outside their home jurisdiction and taxis from other areas may drop passengers off in local policing areas. Coordination between police and the taxi regulators may require the appointment of a special officer.

† In Boston, the taxi industry is regulated by the Boston Police Department (the Hackney Carriage Unit) while in New York City, the Taxi and Limousine Commission sets the rules for both hackney and livery services (see http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/home/home.shtml ).

The development of industry-wide responses should involve not only the police and the regulatory bodies covering a service area, but also other interested groups such as drivers, drivers’ associations, vehicle owners, and radio-cab booking companies. One researcher has commented that voluntary measures, even with wide support among drivers, do not have much chance of penetration into the industry without the support of owners.15 Sometimes these agencies require a single type of safety device, such as a bullet¬proof screen between passengers and drivers, while at other times they may allow drivers or owners to choose from several possible devices, such as safety screens, digital surveillance cameras, or automatic vehicle locators (AVLs) in combination with an alarm.16 Policies that provide some choice among safety measures may represent a compromise among competing interest groups rather than a judgment about comparative effectiveness . However, because so little is known about the effectiveness of most of these measures, it is too soon to draw conclusions about whether it is more useful to focus on a single prevention measure or to allow a variety of measures to operate within a single area.

† But see Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources (2003) for an example of a regulatory impact statement on the requirement that security cameras be installed in taxicabs in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, where the costs and benefits of security cameras, driver safety shields, and emergency lights and duress alarms are each set out.

The responses recommended below are reasonably likely to have some beneficial effect in preventing robberies of taxi drivers; however, unless otherwise noted, none of these responses has been properly evaluated for effectiveness. Since so little research has been done in this area, it is too early to label measures as ineffective. This is why the last three responses are included but discussed separately as responses with limited potential for effectiveness. It is also important to note that, although installation costs are frequently cited as reasons for not implementing particular problem-solving strategies, a number of grant or loan programs have been set up, such as those in New York City17 and Washington, D.C.18

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies†† and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do. Give careful consideration to who in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.

†† Mayhew (2000a) presented a comprehensive review of prevention strategies related to assaults of taxi drivers.

Vehicle Equipment

  1.  Physically separating drivers from their fares can help prevent driver assault and/or robbery.

    Physically separating drivers from their fares can help prevent driver assault and/or robbery.

    Separating drivers from passengers. Screens or partitions should be effective if they make it more difficult for robbers to carry out the type of threat most common with taxi robberies in an area. For example, bullet-resistant screens (and bulletproof plates behind the driver’s seat) are designed to prevent robberies with a gun when the robber is seated behind the driver. In the only well-designed evaluation of a security measure in a taxicab found for this review, bullet-resistant safety screens between drivers and passengers both reduced the number of assaults on drivers and were cost effective.19 Given the probable links between driver assault and robbery, this result should apply to robbery reduction as well.††

    † A report from the Manitoba Taxicab Board (1991) presents an extensive discussion of taxi screens.

    †† The importance of industry-wide use of safety screens in an area has been illustrated with the case of New York City livery drivers. If livery drivers owned the cab they drove, they were exempt from the mandatory shield requirement directed at hackney cabs in the 1990s. While homicide deaths among hackney drivers dropped, livery drivers continued to be victimized (Marosi, n.d.). In 2000, following a number of killings of livery drivers, all livery drivers were required to install either a shield or a digital surveillance camera (Luo, 2004; see also New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, 2000b). Homicides have declined markedly for livery drivers since 2000. It is difficult to credit shields completely for this change, however, since a number of other prevention programs were also in effect in that period.

    Although taxis in many large U.S. cities have driver safety screens, this is by no means a universal feature in all vehicles. Screens have been seen to have the following disadvantages:20

    • expensive to install,
    • do not fit well in vehicles that are not purpose-built vehicles,
    • limit driver-passenger interaction (and, therefore, possibly limit tips),
    • can interfere with heating and air conditioning circulation, and
    • can lead to head injuries following sudden stops where passengers have not been wearing seat belts.

      † Passenger injury was seen as a major problem in New York City cabs. The “Celebrity Talking Taxi” Program, begun in 1997, used recordings by celebrities to remind passengers to wear their seat belts (New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, 2002). The program was abandoned in 2003 following a study of passenger compliance (Feuer, 2003). The recordings were seen as annoying and repetitive, leading many passengers to defy the recommendation to buckle-up.

    However, as one study found, drivers who have been the victims of assaults or robberies may be more likely to want screens in their cabs than those who have been the victims of less serious crimes.21 If taxi regulators require drivers to have screens in their vehicles, then they must provide drivers with information about the types of attacks that screens can protect them against, such as whether they are shatter resistant as well as being bulletproof.

  2. Recording activity with security cameras. Security cameras in taxis can serve a variety of interests related to robbery prevention. Police and prosecutors can use the images to help catch offenders and increase the evidence available for conviction. For drivers who may be more interested in prevention than detection, surveillance cameras in taxis may deter would-be robbers (or attackers) who do not want their images caught on camera. Notices to customers of the presence of cameras should increase their deterrent effect. To achieve a similar deterrent effect, prosecutors need to ensure that successful prosecutions using camera evidence are highly publicized within theirarea. One danger for drivers having cameras in their cabs is that they may begin to rely on the camera as a substitute for their own careful assessment of their passengers and may fail to use their normal precautions.
    Security cameras in taxis can capture robberies in progress.

    Security cameras in taxis can capture robberies in progress. Credit: www.toronto-crimestoppers.com

    The types of cameras available for use in taxicabs have become increasingly sophisticated in the last 10 years.22 Digital cameras, with infrared capability, can be connected to systems that hold a large number of images. Drivers must be aware whether their system writes over images or can retain a certain number of images if an alarm is triggered. If camera images are stored on equipment held in the trunk of the cab, there is a possibility that when robbery events are caught on camera, offenders may try to destroy the equipment (and cab) to eliminate the evidence. Systems that transmit the images to a central location away from the taxi should help to overcome this problem if offenders are aware of how these systems work. Industry representatives should explore technological innovations that make vehicle destruction less likely.

    Not all passengers like cameras.23 Part of this may be due to uncertainty over how their images will be used. Regulators need to set up strict safeguards to protect passenger privacy. Legislation over use of the images may provide some protection, but this may also be achieved if the images are not available to the drivers. Clearly, much depends on the technology used.

    † This would require images to be stored and accessed only through a central computing facility, such as one run by the police department or the industry’s oversight commission. These images would then only be downloaded in special circumstances, such as when a crime occurs or a complaint has been made against the driver. Protection against passenger complaints is seen by many drivers as an additional advantage of having cameras in their cabs and may encourage drivers to install them. Cameras can also be used to help prove or disprove complaints against drivers–if the images have been preserved.

    Some cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and Sydney, Australia, permit drivers to have cameras in their taxis in lieu of driver safety shields.†† Police-industry partnerships need to be aware that not all prevention devices may be equally effective against robbery. Crime displacement may occur if potential robbers see one set of drivers as less protected than drivers with other devices in their cabs.

    †† The effectiveness of cameras in taxis is a hotly debated issue (see Rathbone, n.d.).

  3. Using a radio or alarm to call for help. Although alarms and radios may be used to call for help, drivers may find it very difficult during robberies to use radios (dispatching or CB) or mobile telephones to call for help. Some devices require drivers to hold down a button while speaking or press a series of buttons to connect with the listener. Furthermore, it may become apparent to the assailant that the radio or telephone has been activated or that the driver is broadcasting the cab’s location or using a code indicating that there is trouble. This could put the driver in additional peril. Radios can be disabled and help may not arrive immediately.

    The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has advocated so-called “open mikes.”24 These devices block the airwaves on that channel, broadcasting whatever comes from the open mike. Accidentally switching on an open mike may be a particular problem if the open channel is also the company’s dispatching channel since it is blocked when left “open” and the driver cannot be contacted to close it. If the driver carries a mobile phone, the dispatcher has that number, and mobile phone use by taxi drivers is not prohibited, then that problem may be overcome.

    Drivers can use alarms to signal to some central location (taxi company or police station) that they are having trouble or they can be used to set off a “trouble light” on the vehicle itself that cannot be seen by the passengers. Alarms triggered easily through the pressing of a toggle switch at the driver’s foot, on the steering wheel, or on the radio itself may also be accidentally switched on. While this may be avoided if the driver has to confirm the alarm, this puts an extra burden on the driver as an incident is unfolding.

    In an area with foot or vehicle traffic, passersby may see trouble alarms and summon police. Publicity about trouble lights should increase awareness among those outside the taxi industry about the meaning of these lights and avoid confusion with “ready-for-hire” lights on hackney cabs.

    Drivers and dispatchers need to be carefully trained by the taxi companies:

    • To understand what events are serious enough to warrant calling for help.
    • To know how their alarm systems work, what their limitations are, and whether these limitations can be overcome.

    Police officers must be carefully trained in the protocols for response so that they do not increase the potential harm to the driver. Police departments must understand the problems that may arise with these systems and should review with taxi drivers and dispatching companies their response protocols.

  4. Keeping track of vehicle locations with automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems. Systems using global positioning satellite (GPS) technology have advantages over systems that require drivers to broadcast their locations during a robbery incident. With GPS systems, all that is required is the triggering of an alarm and the monitoring of that alarm signal by someone who can send help.

    Taxi dispatching companies are increasingly using GPS systems to determine which driver is closest to a pick-up location. Some drivers do not like them because they do not take into account driving times to locations or because they allow too much oversight of the driver’s movements. Driver resistance to having an alarm system linked to GPS tracking may be overcome if the systems are independently installed (such as by the taxi-oversight commission or agency) and monitored (by the commission or the local police department).

  5. Putting trunk latches on the inside of vehicle trunks as well as near drivers. All taxi vehicles should be equipped with a latch that allows someone to open the trunk from the inside. This feature is not designed to reduce the number of robberies but to reduce the potential harm to drivers who may be locked in the trunk following a robbery incident. Trunk latches near the driver’s seat may be standard features on many cars used as taxis. They permit drivers to open trunks without getting out of the cab, which may prove useful late at night if the driver does not think it is safe to exit the cab.
  6. Disabling vehicles. Systems that allow cabs to be disabled remotely by having the engine turned off may become more readily available.25 They could be activated by a silent alarm and used to disable a vehicle during a robbery or to prevent a getaway. Drivers using this technology must be trained in how to respond safely to both the lack of engine power and to a variety of potential responses by offenders.

Money Matters

Given that one of the reasons that taxi drivers are at risk of robbery is that they carry cash with them, a number of different strategies have been developed to limit the availability of cash in taxis.

  1. Eliminating cash payments. Drivers should be encouraged to use payment systems that are cashless. Systems used, or proposed, include:
    • Machines that allow taxi drivers to accept credit cards are becoming more common.

      Machines that allow taxi drivers to accept credit cards are becoming more common.

      Credit or debit cards. (The most efficient systems appear to be those in which small machines are installed in the cabs. Some may even be set up so that the passenger swipes the card. This may encourage customer use in areas where passengers are distrustful of drivers. Some companies handle credit cards centrally by calling in the information though this may be a time-consuming process.)
    • Farecards. (Areas that use farecards for public transportation should consider including taxis in the system. If this technology becomes less expensive, it may be possible for communities or companies to run their own systems.)
    • Accounts accessible through mobile phones. (This system allows the mobile phone to be used to gain access to debit accounts.26)
    • Accounts for regular customers, such as restaurants, hospitals, and social services. (Authorized passengers merely sign a bill. Drivers can use this “money” to help pay their own account with the dispatching company.)
    • Personal checks. (Individual drivers may accept personal checks from passengers. This may be considered financially risky even when check guarantee cards are present.)
    Cashless systems can be unpopular with drivers for a number of reasons:
    • Drivers may feel that their regular customer base is unlikely to be able to move to a cashless system and they will lose trade if it is the only alternative offered.
    • It may be expensive for drivers to install the technology necessary to handle these systems. (It may not be seen as cost effective if their customer base is unlikely to use a cashless system and there is no pre-existing farecard system in their area.)
    • Passengers may try to use stolen credit or debit cards, or pass bad or stolen checks so the driver may be concerned about receiving payment from the credit card company or bank.
    • Drivers may wish to limit any records that accurately reflect their income. (Drivers working for companies may conceal their real income if the company is supposed to receive a percentage of the takings. Drivers may not report all of their income to the government, particularly their tips.)
    As more businesses move toward a cashless system, however, drivers should eliminate cash (as much as possible) so that they are not a sure source of cash for would-be robbers. Nevertheless, if cashless systems operate along side regular cash operations, then drivers will still be at fairly high risk of robbery.

    † Australian research has shown that many robberies involve small amounts of money–less than $30 (Keatsdale Pty. Ltd., 1995).

  2. Dropping money off. Drivers should be encouraged to drop off cash during their shifts. They can drop the cash at home, at cash machines, and at dispatching offices (where individual slots and compartments can be set up to hold each driver’s money separately from the others). Drivers may not use drop-off locations if they are not convenient or they perceive their risk of robbery in the taxicab to be low. If the taxicab carries a sign indicating that the driver carries only a limited amount of cash (and the drop off is actually carried out), then the dropping off not only limits driver loss but could limit the risk of robbery in the vehicle. However, this strategy carries risks. Drop-off routines must be varied to prevent robbers from staking out drop-off locations and carrying out hold-ups as drivers leave their cabs. Dispatching offices holding driver cash must be made secure against robbery as well.
  3. Keeping money locked up or out of sight. Drivers can put money in a locked safe in the cab. If a safe is used, it is not clear whether this should be advertised (as in convenience stores). It is possible that such advertising might lead to the escalation of the incident from a robbery to a robbery with an abduction of the vehicle, and possibly the driver.27 This might lead to greater injury to the driver and damage to the vehicle.

    Several methods can be used to prevent passengers from seeing that drivers are carrying large amounts of money and knowing where it is kept. The first two techniques listed below may be more effective since they do not involve a possible confrontation with passengers:

    • Drivers can keep cash for making change separate from the bulk of their takings so only a small amount of money is seen.
    • Taxi regulators can limit the amount of cash that drivers are required to carry to make change for passengers. (This limit should then be advertised in the cab where fares are posted.)
    • Drivers can say they don’t have change and offer to stop at a convenience store or gas station to allow the passenger to get change. (They can claim they just made a cash drop or just started their shift.)
    • Drivers may also tell passengers that they cannot change large bills (or post a notice to this effect), citing “company policy” even if they do not work for a company.
  4. Minimizing expectations about the amount of money present. Passengers frequently ask drivers whether they have “been busy” during their shift. While this may be friendly interest or normal small talk, drivers are frequently advised to play down how busy they have been by saying they have just started their shift or have not been very busy. This is done in case the passenger is using the question as a precursor to a robbery.

Other Driver Practices

Drivers may learn these practices from other drivers–e.g., family or friends in the business–or through driver safety education programs (see No. 28 below).

  1. Controlling who gets in. Drivers use a number of techniques to control who gets in their cabs. Robbers may sneak up on drivers to catch them by surprise. More often, however, these techniques are used by drivers to allow them to assess the potential risks they think passengers pose prior to letting them in their cabs. Once passengers get in, it can be very difficult for drivers to remove them. Access control techniques include:
    • Screening who enters the cab. Using this technique, drivers can exclude people by behavior or demeanor (using abusive language, inability to stand, carrying food, or having bloodied clothing) (see also No. 29 below). Passenger screening is most controversial, however, when it involves refusing passengers from particular ethnic or racial groups (racial profiling) or failing to pick up or drop off passengers at certain locations or areas of a town (residential discrimination). To meet the public service mission of the industry and prevent invidious discrimination, taxi regulators usually set out a limited set of circumstances under which a driver can refuse a fare and provide a mechanism for passengers to make complaints for service refusals. Although it is usually drivers who are penalized for illegal service refusals, regulators can seek to have companies held accountable for the behavior of their drivers, both ethically and legally, particularly when the service refusal is racially motivated.††

      † For example, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission sets out some of this information in an easy-to-use format for passengers (and drivers) at www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/home/home.shtml.

      †† New York City and Washington, D.C., have recently dealt with highprofile campaigns and lawsuits against service refusals on the ground that they amount to illegal racial profiling or residence discrimination. In New York City, the recent campaign against service refusal on racial grounds began in response to a complaint by actor Danny Glover in 1999 who highlighted the problem facing many African-Americans and Hispanics in the city (Yinger, n.d.). Mayor Giuliani reinstated sting operations by police officers that resulted in immediate suspension of the driver, along with other sanctions for repeat offending. The immediate suspension measure was later overturned by a federal judge as it did not meet the requirement for a fair hearing prior to suspension (Padberg v. McGrath- McKechnie, 2002). In Washington, D.C., there have been a number of lawsuits filed in which discriminatory service refusal has been alleged (see Kovaleski, 2003; Mitchell v. Diamond Cab Company, 2003). A report by The Equal Rights Center (2003) cited the D.C. Taxicab Commission for neglecting its responsibilities in the civil rights area for failing to investigate discrimination complaints promptly and thoroughly and for not establishing effective fines and penalties for drivers or companies (see also Kovaleski and Chan, 2003).

      One of the reasons police agencies need to be concerned about taxi robbery is that robbery and fear of robbery fuel discriminatory practices if drivers perceive that they are at unreasonable risk merely by picking up certain passengers or going into certain neighborhoods. This problem is likely to be more difficult to deal with than racial profiling within policing agencies. Instead of dealing with a situation in which an officer is compelled by law to refrain from an action unless it can be justified, here, the driver is compelled by law to act unless the non-action can be justified. In effect, the law is telling one group in a risky industry (police officers) to be risk averse, while it is telling another group in another risky industry (taxi drivers) that they cannot be risk averse. However, if the robbery risks are low, then it becomes easier for drivers to comply with the law and more difficult for them to justify illegal refusals on grounds of high risk. In effect, the low actual risks allow drivers to be both risk averse and not engage in racial or residential discrimination.

      One commentator has suggested that general rates of service refusals in New York City are not related to crime levels but rather to the economics of driving a cab.28, This finding points to a need for policing agencies to use a problem-solving approach to illegal service refusals–looking at the data on serious crimes against taxi drivers in an area (including type of crime, area, and characteristics of offenders), the number of taxis in service (and the fees paid for cab rental), and the enforcement mechanisms available against drivers and companies who use racial profiling or other illegal screening techniques to ensure that these are all geared to help limit the practice.

      † According to this research, as crime was falling in the city, service refusal complaints were rising. These complaints were highest when the demand for cabs was highest, as measured by time spent cruising for customers. This is because when there are a lot of cabs looking for passengers (either because there are more cabs or the fares are high), cabbies cannot afford to be as selective as they can be when there are fewer cabs on the road and fares are lower. In addition, this research cited passenger surveys suggesting that service refusals (both of minority and non-minority passengers) appeared to be related to the pressure to make money and the desire to work only in certain areas of the city.

      • Keeping doors locked while drivers are waiting for the next fare.
      • Keeping windows rolled up enough to prevent someone from reaching in.
      • Taking regular riders as much as possible.
      • Limiting the number of passengers. (The number of passengers that may be taken in a cab is usually limited by law or by the driver’s insurance coverage. These limits primarily relate to road safety issues and are based on the size of the vehicle. Drivers sometimes, however, will impose their own limits on the number of passengers they will take in certain situations as a means of avoiding potential trouble. For example, they may not stop to pick up four young men on a Saturday night, preferring to wait for a fare with fewer passengers (or fewer young men).)
  2. Directing passengers to particular seats in the cab. Drivers are frequently warned not to allow passengers to sit directly behind them if there is no partition or screen. Drivers may not follow this advice if they do not want to risk provoking passengers or letting them know they do not trust them.
  3. Finding out the destination before moving. One rule of thumb cited repeatedly is to get the passenger’s destination “up front.” It is seen as a sign of potential trouble if the passenger refuses to give a destination at the beginning of the trip or changes the destination while en route. Drivers can use a trip sheet (in which all pick-up times and destinations are recorded), cite company policy, or radio in to the dispatcher if customers refuse to give a destination. These techniques may also be used to legitimize a request to get out of the cab if the destination is not given (see No. 16 below).

    † The trip sheet may be required by the regulator or company to keep track of driver income, but it may also be used to document patterns of robbery if the driver is killed or seriously incapacitated during the crime.

  4. Sharing destination information with others. Drivers should be encouraged by companies, the police, and regulators to keep as many people informed of their whereabouts as possible, especially where cameras or GPS systems are not used. Drivers should inform the dispatcher (or another driver) of their whereabouts, proposed route, and destination each time a new passenger gets in the cab. If drivers do not work for a radio-dispatching company,they must rely on other drivers for support. When drivers let someone know where they are going, this also lets the passenger know that someone knows this information as well.
  5. Putting additional people in the cab. In some places, such as Jersey City, New Jersey, drivers do not always work alone in their cabs at night but carry another person in the passenger seat for back up. This practice appears to be intended primarily to increase driver safety but may be intimidating for some passengers. Another practice that can provide additional oversight involves taking unrelated riders together in the same vehicle. Although drivers are provided with additional oversight with shared riding, they may also have more conflicts to deal with between passengers, especially when some of them have been drinking. The benefits for passengers may be mixed since they may have shorter waiting times for cabs, but may not want to ride with strangers.
  6. Setting rules and asking those who don’t meet them to get out. Drivers may set rules such as no smoking or eating in the cab–and may ask passengers to get out of the cab if they don’t follow them. These rules are individual ones that may not be sanctioned by the commission or agency that governs taxi operations. Drivers may also ask passengers to leave if they are aggressive toward them. Drivers may think that failure to stand their ground over minor matters will be seen as a weakness and lead to more serious aggression or be used as an excuse for a robbery.
  7. Trying not to provoke passengers. Drivers are often told not to use aggressive language with customers since this may provoke an attack. Drivers may also establish patterns of interaction, such as always explaining to passengers which route they plan to take, to eliminate later disputes over fares. Drivers may find it difficult to both set rules (No. 16 above) and to try not to provoke passengers. Driver training sessions may help them deal with these types of problems (see No. 28 below).
  8. Knowing where to go for help late at night. If drivers know which locations, such as police stations or sub-stations, fire stations, convenience stores, or gas stations, are open or staffed 24 hours, then they can use this information:
    • To drop off unruly passengers and prevent an incident from escalating to a robbery.

      † In a study of taxi drivers in Cardiff, Wales, drivers related a number of incidents in which they tried to go to police stations for assistance late at night only to find that the stations were not open (Smith, forthcoming).

    • To gain assistance in dealing with an unfolding robbery.
    • To get help following a robbery.
  9. Allowing others to see inside the cab. Taxicab owners and drivers should keep the vehicle’s windows free of obstructions so passersby can see inside the taxi. Tinted glass impedes surveillance by those outside the cab. Drivers are also encouraged to drive along the main roads and well-lit side roads if possible late at night. Obstruction-free windows are part of the package of measures related to lower numbers of convenience store robberies in a number of studies.29
  10. Limiting where the cab will make a drop off. Drivers should be wary of making a passenger drop off in a dark, isolated, or out-of-the-way location because these do not permit surveillance by others or allow the driver to see if someone is lurking at the destination. Similarly, vehicles can be boxed in if an attempt is made to drop off passengers in alleys or dead-ends. Drivers should approach these locations with caution, particularly if other drivers in the area have reported these spots as sites for robbery, fare evasion, or vehicle damage.
  11. Staying in the cab unless it is safe to get out. Drivers are frequently advised not to chase fare evaders since they may find themselves in an isolated area and be attacked and robbed by the “runners” or their compatriots.

    During or after a robbery incident, drivers are sometimes advised to get out of the cab if they are sure it is safe to do so. This is an area in which driver training, based on experience in an area, should guide drivers in how best to judge whether to exit a cab during or after an incident.

  12. Limiting injury when a robbery occurs. Taxi drivers are frequently advised to cooperate with those trying to rob them by handing over their money and not fighting back.

    Drivers should carry first aid kits in their cabs even if this is not required by their local regulatory agency. These could help limit any injury they receive during a robbery or assault.

    Similarly, drivers should keep an extra key in a pocket to allow them to use their cab if the robbers have taken their keys. This is particularly important if they have been abandoned in a remote location and have no radio or telephone.

Policing Practices

There are various organizational approaches police agencies can take to address taxi robbery problems. Special units could be set up to deal with taxi driver robbery if the number of incidents appears high. These units should be used to help determine patterns in taxi robbery and then develop strategies to address what they find. For example, they may target specific areas with high numbers of robbery incidents using decoy taxis driven by police officers.

Police may also want to have a more general taxi unit that deals with a variety of taxi-related crimes, developing expertise in the area. The taxi unit should:

  • Establish protocols for learning about common robbery scripts, utilizing crime analysis techniques as well as crime mapping technology.
  • Develop easy ways for drivers to report crimes against them.
  • Attend meetings and meet informally with drivers, owners, and dispatchers.
  • Establish contacts with unlicensed drivers or otherwise learn about their position in the industry.
  1. Authorizing police stops. In New York City, the Taxi/Livery Robbery Inspection Program (TRIP) has been used to stop cabs on the street without the need for establishing reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Under this program, taxi owners sign a voluntary registration form allowing police to stop their cab for a brief inquiry and a visual inspection of the vehicle. Owners also agree to have all drivers of the vehicle sign a consent form with similar provisions. Decals of participation are placed on the back window in the vehicle and in the passenger compartment, which note in English and Spanish that the cab may be stopped at any time and visually inspected for the driver’s safety. A registry of participating vehicles is kept, as well as a detailed activity log of all police stops.

    The constitutionality of this program was recently upheld by the New York Court of Appeals.30 TRIP differs from earlier programs that were struck down by the Court of Appeals31 and the U.S. District Court.32 The earlier programs involved too much discretion for police in how to carry out the stops. A program in Boston (TIP), similar to TRIP in New York City, has been upheld by the U.S. Circuit Court.33 The Boston Police inform drivers where they will have their check points so that drivers who feel danger or concern can drive by and turn on their cab’s amber light (an alarm signal) for the officers to see (Sweeney, 2004).

  2. Targeting repeat offenders. If police intelligence indicates that a few offenders are responsible for a number of different taxi driver robberies or attempted robberies in a local area, then a repeat offender program should be used to target these individuals or groups of offenders. Police investigation techniques, as well as crime pattern analysis, should be used to establish how best to target the offenders. For example, the New York City Police Department has used decoy drivers to combat taxi robberies in certain areas.34 While detection and prosecution should operate to incapacitate those who have committed a crime, to increase possible deterrent effects, publicity should be used to highlight any successful prosecutions under the program.

    † See Spelman (1990) for a discussion of repeat offender programs.

Industry Rules, Regulations, and Practices

Setting up rules, regulations, and practices that control the industry and reduce both actual and perceived unfair or dangerous practices by drivers may increase sympathy for drivers and limit the excuses offenders may offer for targeting taxi drivers.

† “Excuses” refers to the ways in which offenders rationalize their behavior to themselves and others; it does not imply a legal or moral excuse for their offending.

  1. Controlling the environment around taxi stands. Taxi regulators and city planners should keep surveillance considerations in mind when deciding on the placement of taxi stands (both official stands that allow passengers to hire vehicles on the spot and unofficial ones where company drivers may wait for their next fare). Drivers waiting for fares at taxi stands should not be put at risk of surprise by potential robbers. They should be able to see who is approaching their vehicle from all directions. Adequate lighting and clear lines of sight will allow passersby to see what is happening at the stand. Other aids to surveillance by others include the placement of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras near stands and the direct supervision of stands at particular hours by police officers, taxi inspectors or taxi wardens.35 Official taxi stands are frequently placed at busy locations, such as near airport or train station exits, shopping centers, and late-night venues, to make it easy for passengers to find cabs. Stands may also be placed near businesses open for 24 hours, such as convenience stores or gas stations.
  2. Eliminating passenger and driver conflict over money. Industry practices and the rules and regulations laid out by taxi and limousine commissions and other local licensing agencies must set clear rules about taxi fares. These include:
    • Requiring (and checking the operation of) taxi meters or posting clear guidelines for zoned fares. (Actual or suspected over-charging by drivers may reduce driver credibility across the industry and provide excuses for potential offenders to victimize drivers.)
    • Setting fixed fares for certain routes, such as trips from airports into the city center, or placing taxi dispatchers at taxi stands to set the fares for each destination.††

      † For example, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (2001) recently raised the flat-rate amount that drivers could charge for going from JFK Airport to anywhere in Manhattan to $35.

      †† Taxi dispatchers at Newark Airport ask passengers in the taxi queue where they are going and write the fare on a sheet that is given to the passenger. The sheet contains taxi rules and regulations, as well as information about who to contact to complain about over-charging or other offenses by drivers.

    • Allowing drivers to ask for advance payment or partial payment for out-of-town or long-distance fares. (This rule is primarily aimed at eliminating fare evasion; however, it may also be useful for robberies carried out by those seeking to do the crime in an isolated area who do not have the money to pay for the trip. Some drivers may be reluctant to seek payment up front if they think it indicates distrust of the passengers and may lead to conflict or lower tips.)
    • Setting charges for passenger soiling of the interior of the vehicle, such as through urination or vomiting or the spilling of beverages or food.
  3. Setting driver competency standards. Regulatory agencies should set standards for driver and vehicle competency in areas where lack of such standards may lead to dangerous situations for passengers, conflicts over routes, and other frustrations and misunderstandings that are likely to lead to aggression, physical attacks, or robberies. The most common areas noted as needing some level of competency are:
    • driving,
    • language skills, and
    • knowledge of roads and area routes and short cuts
    Local needs will help determine what these standards should be in a particular area.
  4. Running driver safety training programs. Police agencies, regulators, or industry or driver associations can use driver safety training to help inform drivers of some of the common ways that taxi driver robbery incidents in their area unfold. Ways of trying to prevent the incident at each stage of this “script” can be devised. This type of training may be particularly useful for:
    • new drivers;
    • drivers who have been robbery or assault victims;
    • drivers from ethnic minority groups, particularly those whose language skills in the primary language in an area are not strong; and drivers who may be seen by robbers as particularly vulnerable (due to their age, sex, or national origin).

    Area experts, such as experienced police officers and former drivers, should run these sessions so that drivers see them as worthwhile. Payment for the sessions can be made by the drivers, the dispatching companies, the local government, or by grants. Details of the exact “scripts” or “modus operandi” used by offenders should not be made public to discourage imitation. Formal training has not been found to be associated with lower victimization levels among Canadian drivers. 36 Programs should inform drivers of various Internet sites that contain driver safety information or information about how taxis are regulated in their area. These include:

  5. Screening passengers by the dispatching company. Companies often keep records of passengers who have caused trouble for drivers in the past. The rationale for doing this is that it either prevents the passenger from using that taxi service or it allows drivers to decide whether or not they want to pick up the passenger. This type of blacklisting may also be done by location. When this happens, it may penalize those who move into the residence of a former offender, those who live with offenders, or even those who live in the same apartment complex. These blacklisting practices may be over-inclusive in their scope if they focus on passenger address and they can result in racial and residential discrimination if the practices are not limited to actual behaviors of past passengers (see No. 11 above).

    Companies can use Caller ID to check to see whether the call is coming from a private or public address, a telephone booth, or a mobile phone. This technology has several uses: it can be used to trace callers if they fail to show up, evade the fare, or attack or rob the driver and it allows companies to match the telephone number to blacklisted numbers (if they have such a list). Passengers calling for cabs from public telephone booths or mobile phones may be more closely scrutinized by drivers since they are less traceable than some other passengers are.

  6. Exempting drivers from seat belt use. Taxi drivers who drive cabs without safety screens between themselves and their passengers should be permitted to decide when they will wear their seat belts. 37 Seat belts can be used to strangle someone from behind.

Responses With Limited Potential for Effectiveness

Because so little is known about taxi robberies and their prevention, the only responses included here are ones that appear to hold little promise as effective protection strategies against robberies.

  1. Locking passengers in. Purpose-built taxicabs, such as the newer versions of London cabs, have systems that lock passengers in when the driver’s foot is on the brake. The driver can also control the locking mechanism independently. Posted signs and warning lights describe the braking system and notify customers when it is in operation.

    Drivers can use this type of system to prevent non­payment of fares as well as keep passengers from getting out where it is not safe. Locking passengers in when no screen is present is likely to escalate the use of violence against drivers. Locking passengers in when there are screens may lead to vehicle damage.

  2. Working only during the day. Some drivers choose to work only during the daytime hours due to the risks of crime victimization and encountering difficult passengers at night. While this response may be effective for individual drivers, it holds little promise across an industry that relies in large part on nighttime trade. Furthermore, this strategy will only show limited results since not all robberies occur at night.
  3. Carrying a weapon. Many drivers carry something in their cabs that can be used as a weapon in an attack, such as a blunt instrument or spray. 38 It is not known whether potential offenders will try to avoid drivers who they think may be carrying a weapon. The primary danger for drivers carrying such weapons is that the weapons may be used against them. In addition, it may not be legal for them to carry these types of weapons in their cabs.