Taxi drivers put the brakes on the night shift after attacks

Taxi driver Mehdi Saharkhiz was on the night shift in the Portland and Adelaide area when two men approached his cab, knocked him unconscious with a blunt object and then robbed him.

He spent four months in hospital recovering from the coma. Later he began having seizures. As a result, the Metro Licence Commission took his cab licence away until he medically proved eight years later he was able to drive a taxi again.

“It was 1996, it’s now 2011 and those two individuals still haven’t been caught,” Saharkhiz, an Ambassador driver, said. “I spent eight years unable to drive a taxi because of them.”

Fellow Ambassador driver Mohammad Reza Hosseinioun has been driving a taxi since 1993. He says he now prefers to work the day shift than the dangerous night shift.

“If you work in the night, no matter what, you will face one of these things,” he said. “Either a jumper (someone who doesn’t pay the fare), or they beat you, or you get a bunch of drunks getting in and begin to yell out profanities or get sick.”

Hosseinioun recalls a time when he was stopped at the lights on his usual downtown route when a man approached his cab and kicked his mirror off. The disgruntled driver had caught up with Hosseinioun for apparently cutting him off several streets earlier.

“I didn’t even know where he came from, he just began shouting at me and started kicking my car,” Hosseinioun said.

The unified frustration of taxi drivers from across the city has led to the creation of the iTaxiworkers Association, an organization determined to fight for better treatment and security of taxi drivers. Current director Randy Collins hopes the organization will pick up momentum.

“We’re trying to build an association that will be hard to ignore in places like City Hall or Queen’s Park,” Collins said. “One person can shout as loud as they want, but they’re not going to be heard. But if they come together, by the power of numbers, they can make things happen.”

But taxi driver Harsh Mehta says it’s not worth putting their lives at risk in the first place.

“If he runs or he walks, who cares, I can’t get any money off him, so why should I waste anymore time,” Mehta said. “I won’t fight for a few dollars, but a lot of drivers don’t understand that. If I take the stress of fighting, I won’t be comfortable taking my next fare.”