Double shooting raises concerns about taxi safety

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Local cab officials are taking a new look at the safety of drivers and their passengers after a double shooting on Clay Street, Tuesday night.

The shooting left the 23-year-old cab driver in critical condition at the Erie County Medical Center while a passenger, who was also wounded, was treated and released.

Detectives are investigating the shootings, possibly a botched armed robbery, and Liberty Cab officials are providing additional crime fighting tools.

“A lot of eyes and ears are out there,” said Bill Yuhnke, president of Liberty Yellow Cab Company. Yuhnke says he has 200 cab drivers on the street who can help spot a suspect.

Yuhnke talked about their dispatch technology, called EZDispatch, that helps protect drivers and their fares, and fights crime. Cars are also tracked by GPS, and the dispatching system is equipped with “trouble buttons” for the drivers.

Yuhnke said the button “sends a message to our dispatch that the driver is in some type of trouble. At that point we start tracking the driver in real time, block by block.”

To cut down the amount of cash the drivers handle, every cab in Liberty’s fleet is equipped with a swiping device to take credit or debit card payments. Yuhnke believes less cash in the cab, lessens the chance of a holdup.

“Right now, we are at about 65 percent of our business is done by credit card or vouchers. That is good for the driver, it is good for the company, and it is good for the passenger.”

Some wonder if going to 100 percent cash-less cabs may be even safer. City lawmakers could mandate no-cash or all-cash taxis, but North District Council member Joe Golombek, chairman of the Council’s Taxi Cab Committee, points out there are many Buffalonians who can’t even get credit cards.

“They have people that are willing to spend $2, $3, $4 maybe, for a ride from their house to the grocery store and back. They don’t use credit cards, and they don’t want to be forced to only use credit cards,” Golombek said.

Yuhnke says that Liberty Cab has a gift card program for passengers who don’t have credit cards, and Golombek says at least one local cab company does only accept cash. But Golombek also points out that additional safety measures also cost more to implement, and city lawmakers are going to leave those decisions up to the cab companies.

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