Cabbie wants city taxis cleaned up

‘I’ve had women get in my cab, take off all their clothes and ask, ‘Do you want some of this?’” said Whitehorse cabbie…

‘I’ve had women get in my cab, take off all their clothes and ask, ‘Do you want some of this?’” said Whitehorse cabbie Ceri Bowen.

“I get offers for sex at least once a week, from girls as young as 13 and older women too — but the girls keep getting younger and younger.”

Although Bowen always declines these offers, there are some drivers out there who don’t, he said.

“I know one driver who does it on a regular basis,” said Bowen.

But it isn’t always the customers, who offer sexual favours for free rides. Sometimes the drivers instigate the sexual encounter, said several city cabbies and a Whitehorse youth.

“I would say roughly 20 per cent (of the sexual encounters) are instigated by the passengers,” said Bowen.

And the remaining 80 per cent?

“There are some scumbags driving cab who I wouldn’t even want my dog driving with,” he said.

And these scumbags ruin it for the rest of the drivers, added Bowen.

There are about 30 cabbies in Whitehorse, and Bowen figures at least five of them are, in his words, scummy.

“I could name three right off the top of my head,” he said.

“I have an 18-year-old daughter and, if I found out she was in a car with one of those drivers, I’d freak.”

Bowen, who’s been driving cab in Whitehorse for 20 years, has heard many horror stories.

“Girls get in my cab and keep telling me these stories, and one name keeps popping up,” he said.

“And I tell them, ‘Go tell the police and tell the police to come see me,’ but nobody does,” he said.

“I’m not denying this needs to stop, but people need to start going to the police and the owners of the cab companies; this is the only protection the customers have — the cops and bylaw.”

In Whitehorse, taxis are regulated by bylaw services.

“We’re basically concerned with the mechanical fitness of the vehicles,” said bylaw manager John Taylor.

And the drivers?

“Well, they go through criminal-record checks,” he said.

But, do they go through any required training?

“Training?” said Taylor.

“We looked at this at one time, and if you talk to Graham Jackson, he says he’s got a training program that he runs his people through.”

Jackson owns Whitehorse Taxi, Yellow Cab and 5th Avenue Taxi.

“And there’s a few things through the department of Tourism — a course they offer that isn’t mandatory,” said Taylor.

So, basically, anyone with a Class 4 licence, who passes the criminal record check, can apply to drive cab, he said.

In Toronto cabbies must pass a 16-day course before they can receive a taxi licence, according to the 1997 Metro Toronto Taxi Industry Report.

In Quebec, licensed taxi drivers must pass a 60-hour course, and to work in urban centres they’re required to take an additional 90-hour course, according to the report.

And in Vancouver, a minimum requirement of a 12-hour course is obligatory for cabbies.

Not in Whitehorse.

“We hear about stuff like cabbies exchanging sex for rides, and if a conviction was ever secured, then we would be looking at revoking that person’s licence,” said Taylor.

“But you have to remember, we’d be looking at what transpires.

“Taxi drivers sometimes make complaints about each other, and we investigate all of them — sometimes we can substantiate them and sometimes we can’t.

“That’s where our problem comes in, gathering the evidence to proceed with a charge.”

Lots of people approach us with accusations, but they have usually heard about them from others who don’t want to come forward, said Taylor.

“And we get accusations like, ‘I know so-and-so’s doing this, everybody knows,’ but that’s not good enough. We need more information than just, ‘everybody knows he’s doing it,’” he said.

There have been no reported complaints of sexual encounters in taxis at all, said RCMP Sergeant Ross Milward.

“We’ve heard rumours that sex is traded for drugs and alcohol and all sorts of things like that, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear it’s happening for taxi rides, but it’s very unfortunate — it’s a bad deal,” he said.

“And, unfortunately, what you’re dealing with is kids that are living off the street, that don’t have much and they don’t want to come forward.”

Local youth voiced concerns that Whitehorse RCMP would not take complaints seriously, especially if the victim was drunk during the incident.

“I guess some of the youth have a different belief in what the police would do, but, absolutely, if they come forward we’re certainly going to take it seriously,” said Milward.

“It’s a difficult situation, and it’s something we’d like to stop, but our hands are pretty well tied until we have a complaint and suspects and something to investigate.”

“They need to find out which drivers are doing it and fire them,” said Bowen.

“I’ve been trying to clean up the Whitehorse cab scene for the last 20 years.”

Corrupt cabbies also endanger Bowen and his co-workers, he said.

“There are lots of vigilantes out there just looking for an excuse to attack a driver,” said Bowen, whose has had 10 knives pulled on him over the years.

“It’s a dangerous job,” he said.

“You see lots of fights; sometimes you act as an ambulance and take people to the hospital and there is always the threat of being attacked and robbed.”

Bowen plans to write a book chronicling his adventures driving cab.

“It’ll be a bestseller,” he joked.

“But the trouble is, after 20 years, I’m already on Volume 21.”