Monday April 9, 2018
Two taxi assaults within less than a week of each other last month have taxi drivers on edge; at least one cab company changing its policies.
It's every cab driver's worst nightmare and it came true for two men last month.
They both describe similar situations in which they were robbed and beaten by a young couple who called for their help, a couple one of the men believes to be 21-year-old Shirley Qinones and 20-year-old Hector Rivera, who appeared in court on charges for one of the cases Sunday.
The victim, in that case, is Ahmed Hassan, who was attacked in the parking lot of the Ulu Factory in downtown Anchorage on March 22.
The other victim has requested KTVA not reveal his identity for fear of another attack. For the purposes of this story, we will refer to him as "Bob".
"I never had any problems, till those guys now," Bob said of what seemed like a routine call for the taxi driver of more than 30 years.
On the night of March 27, a couple called for help opening their car at West High School. The camera in Bob's taxi caught a quick glimpse of them in the dark.
The scenario turned out to be a trap.
"The guy grabbed my jacket and tried to knock me down. And when I tried to get the guy, the lady with the baton hit me straight in the head," Bob said. "The lady kept hitting me in the head, those guys tried to kill me."
Bloodied and severely beaten, Bob managed to drive to the hospital.
Even weeks later, his blood stains still mark the scene, hidden behind a snow bank. Bob's attackers got away with less than what some people keep in their wallet.
"They got from me 15 or 17 dollars, just my change. I just started late that night," Bob said.
Hassan believes those were the same people who robbed him at gunpoint just five days before at the Ulu Factory in downtown Anchorage. It was the same story, a couple said they'd locked their keys in the car.
"When I came out, I start grabbing my stuff in the trunk, I see people just punching me. But I saw he pulled a pistol," Hassan said.
Hassan soon found himself begging for his life.
"She said 'shoot him, shoot him,' and I said, 'please don't shoot. If you want money or something, take it, but don't shoot me,'" Hassan said.
When Hassan moved here with his family, from Somalia, several years ago, Anchorage was supposed to be a safe haven.
"I come here to live, to get peace -- that's why I fled from my country, to get peace," Hassan said.
Now, peace has been replaced with scars -- both emotional and physical -- scars both men are still trying to heal.
Hassan says cab companies need to do more to field calls and ensure they aren't sending their drivers into dangerous situations.
Since the attacks last month, Anchorage Checker Cab says it has revamped its policies. It's now sending two drivers to some late night calls, instead of just one.
But both drivers and dispatchers agree -- the safest thing for the industry would be if customers used apps to call for cabs.
Normally, Anchorage Checker Cab only collects a person's name, phone number and drop off address -- all of which could easily be made up.
But if the industry were able to switch to app-based transactions, similar to Uber and Lyft's business models, they'd have a lot more data to identify just who they're going to meet because apps require credit card verification in order to dispatch a driver.
It's something Anchorage Checker Cab owner Michael Thompson says he's been trying to promote. But because some customers don't have credit cards or smartphones, cash has become a niche for cabs. They'll still take it even though Lyft and Uber won't.
"With the app, it does have to be verified, there's a verification that goes before they use it. So, I suppose that because people know they've already been identified, it would be a safer method of getting a cab to a person," Thompson said, adding that the app can also be an added convenience for customers because they can track the cab's route.
Anchorage Assembly Vice-Chair Forrest Dunbar says his ordinance to change certain taxi regulations could help, by reducing fees on the industry in other areas. In doing so, Dunbar hopes to encourage companies to invest in app-based systems.
"We do hope that the taxi industry starts using apps more, we think that it will help them reach more young folks," Dunbar said. "I know it's expensive for the industry to make that adaptation as well."
Dunbar's ordinance will be taken up by the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday.
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