Editorial: Taxi drivers have a right to feel safe

By Dylan Thorne

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CONCERNED: Cabbies from Tauranga Mount Taxis gathered at Brendan Horan's office yesterday to voice concerns about abuse and people not paying fares.
CONCERNED: Cabbies from Tauranga Mount Taxis gathered at Brendan Horan's office yesterday to voice concerns about abuse and people not paying fares.

How Kiwis treat people from different cultures is the real yardstick of how multicultural our society is.

New Zealand might have a diverse mix of races but how well do we all get along? How understanding and accepting are we of different ethnicities? Do we show an interest in different cultures?

Ask a sample of taxi drivers in this country those questions and you might be surprised by the response.

This week a group of Tauranga cabbies spoke out about the racist abuse, vandalism and theft they endured from passengers.

It's a given cabbies see humanity in its worst state. They have the burden of ferrying home incoherent revellers who have stumbled their way inside their cabs after a heavy night of drinking. No doubt many of these passengers have passed the stage of being able to hold a decent conversation.

It's not a job I, and I suspect many others, would like to do.

The situation gets even more volatile when prejudice is added into the mix.

Mount Taxis driver Naveep Kullar told this newspaper that he has been called a "n***** " and asked "who let you into the country" and "why are you taking our jobs?"

Cab drivers are reluctant to report incidents to police because of the amount of time it takes to lodge a complaint and because they are often treated as civil matters, Mr Kullar says.

Several weeks ago a passenger went "wild" inside his cab after being picked up from a nightclub.

He says he called the police but the man was not charged and he was told it was a civil matter.

Western Bay of Plenty area commander inspector Clifford Paxton says taxi driver complaints are judged on individual merits and every situation is different. Offences could include threatening behaviour, intimidation and offensive behaviour but disputes over services provided were generally civil matters, he says.

This is not the first time racial abuse against taxi drivers has made headlines. In July last year Greg Shuttleworth, a technician for an engineering company in Southland, apologised for carrying out a verbal attack on Pakistan-born, Tariq Humayun. The exchange was captured on camera and went viral on the internet.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says reports of racist abuse against taxi drivers is a "sad, recurring theme" throughout the country. I find it disturbing.

Everyone should be able to go about their work, get paid and feel they have someone to turn to if they feel threatened on the job. Cab drivers, who often work through the night, face more risks than most during the course of their working day, and they need all the support they can get.

The police are not solely responsible for ensuring cab drivers are safe.

Taxi companies should also hold offensive passengers to account either through additional charges or via civil courts.

Good on the drivers who came forward this week. These issues can only be confronted when they are brought out into the open.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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