September 2015

Muzik club murders put taxi industry in hot seat, again

by Mike Beggs

In the wake of the recent Muzik club murders, Toronto cab drivers are taking a lot of heat for the reportedly commonplace practice of turning down short fares.

Two young people were killed and three injured in the early hours of August 4, after gunplay erupted in and around this late-night club on the west end of the CNE grounds. In a highly publicized statement, the roommate of one of the victims, 26-year-old Ariela Navarro-Fenoy, alleged that her death could have been avoided if several taxis hadn’t refused their $8 ride home to Bathurst St. and Lakeshore Blvd. W.

Franca Abate told reporters that, after attending the OVO after party, their group sensed trouble and rushed out of the club. But after failing to secure a cab ride, they began walking towards a friend’s car on Dufferin St. when gunfire broke out. Abate turned around to see her friend had been shot.

After a police officer performed CPR, Navarro-Fenoy was rushed to hospital where she succumbed to her wounds. The second murder victim, David Hibbert, 23, was pronounced dead on the club’s patio.

While it contravenes the City’s taxi bylaw to turn down a taxi customer based on distance, customers increasingly complain this has become almost standard practice in the downtown, as drivers hold out for longer runs to the suburbs.

According to Toronto Municipal Licensing & Standards, since January 2014 the City has received 286 complaints about such refusal of service. And, drivers caught spurning short fares are subject to a $150 fine.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis said he was “deeply concerned” to learn that Navarro-Fenoy and her friend were denied a ride with gunfire breaking out.

“In my view, taxi drivers have a responsibility to pick up customers and take them to their destinations, regardless of the cost of the taxi fare,” he said, in a statement. “This is not an Uber versus the taxi industry matter. This is about adhering to laws, rules, and regulations. Anyone who breaks them, in my opinion, should be charged.”

Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard says this problem has reached “epidemic” proportions. And while her company has a “zero tolerance” policy on such behaviour, she told Global News the brokerages can only do so much, and it’s up to the City’s bylaw enforcement division to crack down by hiring more officers.

The City currently has 46 bylaw enforcement officers. But Bylaw Enforcement Centre District Manager Rose Burrows told Global News it’s more a matter of these incidents being reported, with citizens counted on as “an extra set of eyes” on the street. Consumers filing a complaint should make note of the date and time of the incident, and the taxi number, before notifying the cab brokerage, Bylaw Enforcement, or 311.

In a column in last month’s Taxi News, veteran driver Louis Seta observed that, “In many ways, cabs drivers are their own worst enemies”, when they turn down short runs or demand cash payment.

“If industry members make taking a cab difficult, then people will switch to a more convenient mode,” he warned.

In light of the Muzik club murders, long-time Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier raised similar concerns, noting the tragic incident “reveals, yet again, the taxi industry is in many respects is its own worst enemy -- given the fact we are in the midst of a titanic struggle to preserve our livelihoods.

“I know the times are tough. But we’re in the service business, and the welfare of the customer has to be our foremost consideration.”

However, Seta observed it was important not to lose sight of the larger issue of violence on Toronto’s streets.

“I agree that the drivers should obey the law and not refuse fares. But the issue is, why illegal guns are easily available in the city, and why gun users have no moral concern in gunning down Toronto citizens at social functions,” he said.

While acknowledging there is an issue surrounding the refusal of short fares, long-time owner/operator Gerald Manley agreed, noting there may have been extenuating circumstances in drivers denying them a ride.

“In the end, it was not taxi drivers who killed this person, it was the armed criminals,” he said. “They’re very quick to blame the cab driver without knowing the circumstances.”

Furthermore, he suggested some level of blame lies at the foot of all three levels of government, for using the taxi industry as a “social welfare net whose membership usually does not want to be there, and the service level reflects that.”

“Why are they putting the blame on us cab drivers. Because they can,” agreed long-time owner Al Moore, who never turned down a short fare in his many years on the road. “We still don’t know what happened.”

“The City has been aware of this problem of refusal of fares for a long time,” he added. “This is caused by too many cars on the road. Licensing and Standards is fully aware of that.”

Moore stressed that in a situation such as this, “As a common courtesy you take them to better areas of the city free of charge (if necessary). That’s public relations.”

According to Chapter 545 of the Toronto Municipal Code, cab drivers can only refuse somebody a ride if: that person: owes them money from a previous fare; refuses to disclose his or her final destination before or immediately after entering the taxicab; asks to be driven to a remote place in circumstances which the owner or driver reasonably believes to be unsafe; is unduly obnoxious or abusive; smokes in the taxi; or fails to make an advance payment when requested to by the driver.

In the wake of the Muzik club shootings, the Toronto Star conducted a small random survey, flagging down six night drivers, and found that all six accepted a short distance fare.

Charges still haven’t been laid in the murders, and police have provided a dedicated web page for witnesses to submit videos and pictures.


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