Taxi Driver Association of Austin Calls for Improved Driver Safety and Working Conditions

By • on March 1, 2011

Taxi Driver Association of Austin
Contact: TDAA – President – Ann Darbonne – 512-619-6283 and Financial Secretary Dave Kelley – 512-662-4516

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February 28, 2011, Austin

The Taxi Driver Association condemns recent robberies of taxi drivers and expresses its condolences to Polo Escobar, an Austin cab driver who was recently robbed and had his throat cut while driving his cab this weekend.

The incident happened at approximately 3am Saturday morning after Escobar picked up two passengers for a fare in south Austin. Towards the end of the trip, the passengers robbed Escobar and cut his throat, a laceration that required approximately fifteen stitches. Even though Escobar notified his dispatcher and the police to get help. Due to the injuries, Escobar is no longer able to drive his cab or earn income to pay his medical bills. It is unknown how long it will take for him to regain mobility and return to work.

On Saturday night a couple weeks ago, two young hooded men flagged Basazin Abagadu near Riverside and Montopolis Drive. They suddenly told him to stop, put gun at his head, and told him to give them all of his money. They took him out of the cab and searched him-even tried to take his shirt- then told him to run. He ran. They took cab but dropped his phone. He called dispatch and the police quickly found his cab, but not the robbers. He is grateful to be alive.

"It is a senseless crime to hurt men who were simply trying to earn an honest living", said TDAA President Ann Darbonne.

TDAA wants the public to know that Austin cabs are equipped with GPS tracking systems, silent alarms, and two-way communications systems. Drivers carry only a small amount of cash and companies have caller ID on dispatch calls and emergency protocals. Some cabs are equipped with security cameras.

"Driving a taxi is a risky business", said Dave Kelley, who has driven a cab for 11years. "Drivers work alone, often at night, and every day you pick up strangers. Security cameras are a good idea, but the companies make the drivers pay an extra $20 a week for the equipment and most drivers can’t afford the extra expense."

The recent assaults highlight the issue of driver safety. OSHA reports that taxi driver homicide rates were between 21-33 times higher than the national average for all workers. According to the Department of Labor, taxi and livery drivers are also among those with the highest rates of nonfatal assault.

Nonfatal assaults are compounded by the fact that so few drivers have health insurance. An Austin survey found that of those local drivers with health insurance, most are covered by their spouse. Hospital costs could bankrupt these families. "This tragedy exposes the unfairness of an industry in which the drivers are not covered by workers compensation insurance", stressed Ms. Darbonne. "Instead of insurance coverage, Austin taxi drivers pass the hat to pay for hospital expenses."

Austin taxicab franchises do not offer workers compensation coverage to taxi drivers, who, as independent contractors, do not have employee protections. State law, however, allows cab companies to provide insurance coverage to drivers in Texas. Other states and cities require that taxi drivers be covered by worker’s compensation insurance.

TDAA calls for the Austin city council to require companies to provide workers compensation coverage for drivers, improved safety features, such as security cameras, with the costs borne by the companies that profit greatly from the work of the drivers, and for the Austin Police department to establish a Taxi Driver Safety Committee to offer safety training and establish protocols for tracking assaults against taxi drivers, high crime locations, and known perpetrators. The city and county should also work to ensure that every driver who qualifies for public health insurance is enrolled by conducting on-site healthcare enrollment at locations where drivers congregate. Visitors to the city, senior citizens, and those without vehicles depend on taxis for transportation. TDAA urges Austin to take steps to reduce the harm to taxi drivers who work long hours to provide a critical city service. Cab drivers shouldn’t have to die to get your attention.

The following Austin cab drivers have been murdered on the job:

Alvin Bronson   John Parrish
Alex Hinojosa   Doug Laws
Jesse Williams   Brian Bevill