When a passenger held a knife to his throat three years ago, Muhammad Azeez stopped driving taxi for a month. He's still too scared to work the night shift.
Azeez is not alone. According to a 2011 survey, Toronto's iTaxiworkers Association reported more than half of the respondents had been assaulted, and 70 per cent felt in physical danger while driving.
Many cities believe partitions in cabs are the best way to protect drivers. But new research from the U.S. shows that dashboard cameras, not partitions, are most effective at reducing taxi driver homicides.
Azeez believes that might be the best option. "Maybe a partition would have stopped him putting a knife to my throat," he says of his assailant. "The camera takes a picture, but a partition actually shields you from a person with a gun or knife."
Crimes against taxi drivers dropped 75 per cent after cameras became mandatory in Toronto cabs in 2005. But the murder rate involving cab drivers still remains the highest of all occupations.
Following the brutal murder of driver Mahmood Bhatti by a passenger in 2006, Councillor Janet Davis brought forward a motion to approve partitions. It passed, and the idea is currently under review.
"The preliminary results show 53 per cent in favour of partitions," Davis said. She believes both partitions and cameras may be necessary. "There are many violent incidents against taxi drivers every year, and we have an obligation to protect taxi drivers from murder and assault using whichever means possible."
A study of taxi driver murders in 26 U.S. cities by the National Institute of Occupation Safety and Health suggests that cameras have by far the bigger effect: the murder rate was seven times lower after cameras were introduced. But after examining 15 years of data, the study found that cities with partitions had the same cabbie murder rate as cities with no security measures at all.
Taxi drivers are divided on the idea of installing partitions.
Saleem Irshad, general manager of Diamond Taxis and a 30-year veteran of the industry, believes partitions will push customers to use limousines instead. "Toronto taxi cabs are small as it is, and if we have to install partitions, it will make it too uncomfortable to sit in the back."
The city's answer is expected in January, when the final results of the Taxi Industry Review are due to be published.