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Women frightened by ‘abusive’ taxi driver

The Department of Transport is to work with a local taxi dispatching firm to try to identify a cab driver said to have verbally attacked a group of Filipino women when caught attempting to overcharge them.

According to one of the four passengers, the driver smelled of alcohol, tried to charge the passengers using an inflated meter setting, became abusive when questioned, telling them to “get back to your own country”, before trying to throw them off his vehicle.

Transport minister Michael Fahy said his department would be contacting the firm that the driver was dispatched through.

He said: “Once the information is received, the operator will be given a date to meet with the Public Service Vehicles Licensing Board to answer to the allegations. The board will mete out the requisite punishment based on its findings.”

Public transportation authorities have highlighted cautionary measures that can be taken by members of the public when using taxi services in Bermuda.

Leo Simmons, president of the Taxi Owners and Operators Association, and a spokeswoman from taxi regulator the Transport Control Department, advised that anyone taking a taxi should take note of the car’s licence plate number as well as the driver’s name on their ID card, which is required to be displayed in all legitimate taxis. In this case, the licence plate number was not documented by the passengers, but it is hoped the driver can be identified through the details that are available.

A spokeswoman for the firm has said that as the company is moving locations, its records, including logs of recent journeys that could help to identify the driver, are currently “packed away”.

According to one of the Filipino women, who wished to remain anonymous, she and three female friends caught a taxi on January 10 from Waterlot Inn to Hibiscus Lane via Harbour Road at about 9pm. She said she noticed the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath and then saw that he had the meter set to three, the higher rate charged from midnight to 6am or on public holidays — neither of which was the case.

The woman, an expatriate who works as a caregiver, said that when she “politely” asked the driver whether he had “made a mistake”, he became verbally abusive towards her. She said the driver, whom she described as a black male in his fifties or sixties, began cursing and said: “Get back to your own country. You are here taking all our money.”

He then stopped his vehicle and demanded the passengers get out.

Recalling the incident, the woman told The Royal Gazette: “I was shocked, I said, ‘Sir, what is the problem?’

“He was cursing us. He stopped the car and told us to get out. My friend needed to be at work for 9.30pm, so she begged him to take them.

“He continued to drive but he started driving slow — he put the meter to number 1 and said ‘anything else?’ He was still cursing us and was using the word ‘expat’.”

While describing the details to The Royal Gazette the woman began crying, but continued. “I was so upset,” she said. “If they were in my country, I would never do that to someone. He is accusing us of taking all the money and he doesn’t even know what we are doing here.

“I got afraid because of how he was driving. First he drove slowly and then started driving fast.

“I have four children at home in the Philippines and I thought, ‘Please, God, let us get there safely’.”

When she tried to pay the fare, the woman said the driver refused to take the money. She insisted and the driver accepted only what was owed after he had changed the meter to No 1 — $10.

The spokesperson for the taxi firm explained that all taxi drivers are self-employed and are dispatched through the firm so the firm, is powerless to reprimand them. The spokesperson added: “We do apologise on behalf of the taxi service for any inconvenience. However, we are not liable for their actions or behaviour.”

Mr Simmons said that he heard similar stories “all too often” and warned the public to remain vigilant.

“Take down the licence plate number,” he said. “And, every taxi driver should have his ID badge displayed in the car somewhere visible, whether it is hanging off the mirror or air vent or meter. If you can get their name, do it.

“Having the taxi number is the easiest way, then once you have that, you make an official complaint through the traffic division of TCD. They will look into it. You can also ask the driver for a receipt. Unfortunately, these ladies had a bad experience — they are not the first that I have heard of and it is happening all too often.”

TCD acts as the regulatory body for the taxis in Bermuda and is responsible for issuing and revoking licences. The applications are vetted by the Bermuda Police Service, which checks for convictions. Offences beyond seven years are not considered in the deliberations. Applications are also reviewed by the PSVLB before any person can be approved to hold a taxi operator’s licence or taxi driving licence.

A spokeswoman for TCD told The Royal Gazette: “TCD has every confidence in the vetting process. However, there will be circumstances that are beyond our control and it is our hope that the taxi dispatching companies and associations will continue working with the PSVLB and TCD to weed out those persons operating taxis who are causing issues in the industry, which reflects on the entire industry. We have outstanding ambassadors in the taxi industry that should not have their reputations tarnished because of a few.”

TCD said it had received nine written complaints or reports in the last ten months of 2016. Of these, two went before the PSVLB, with the result that one taxi driver was suspended for a month and another was cautioned. Three complainants did not take further action, three received apologies and the remaining complaint was settled in civil court.

Anyone experiencing disrespectful or unlawful behaviour by a taxi driver should submit complaints in writing for the consideration of the PSVLB, the spokeswoman added.