A week after this, another story made the rounds on Facebook. A woman (again, a friend of a friend) got on a taxi and almost got drugged by the driver. The driver kept waving a towel in front of the airconditioning unit and the passenger began to have difficulty breathing and feel numbness in her limbs. She had the presence of mind (and thank God, the strength) to get out of the still-moving cab before the unknown drugs took their full effect.
This is just one of many scary taxi cab stories that we’ve all heard. My own sister was a victim of a taxi cab mugging on Christmas Eve, of all days. A colleague also had a similar experience: she ended up in Cavite, alone and virtually penniless after taking a cab from the front of our Makati office. We all know someone or have a cousin/colleague of a friend who has had a harrowing experience with criminals working as taxi cab drivers.
With Christmas fast-approaching (yes, really) and no apparent action from our police and public transportation authorities to address the situation, then it’s up to us to take measures to keep ourselves (and our friends, sisters, colleagues, cousins, etc.) safe when taking cabs. The tips below were pooled from friends’ practices and the learnings from people who have been in the same situation. But please feel free to add your own in the comments.
- Take note of the cab’s plate number, and make sure other people know about it as well. Aside from sending friends and family the plate number, feel free to take it as far as my friend does. Take a picture of the plate number printed outside the cab, beside the door and post it on Facebook and/or Twitter as a record, along with the pick-up location:
- Before boarding a cab, check for the plate number written on the inside of the taxi doors. If it’s too faded to read clearly, don’t get in. If it looks like it was taped over, don’t get in. In the cab my sister was mugged in, the original print was covered with tape and a different plate number was written. Most victims are trapped in the cab for long periods of time, enough time to etch those three letters and three numbers into their brains, if they were visible and readable. It makes sense that cab drivers with malicious intent would want to conceal the primary means of identifying their vehicle.
- Take note of the operator/driver name as well. In case of an unfortunate incident, the more information you have, the better.
- Check the front and backseats before getting in. One MO for these taxi crimes is to have an accomplice hiding in front of the passenger seat beside the driver. Once the passenger is comfortably seated in the backseat, the accomplice emerges from his presumably cramped hiding spot.
- Check that the doors on both sides of the backseat can be opened from the inside. And sit behind the driver. Another popular MO is to have accomplices board the taxi along the way. This is exactly what happened to my sister after she hailed a cab at KFC on Connecticut in San Juan. After the taxi took a right turn at EDSA, the driver pulled over at the next building, where a woman and a man boarded the front seat and the backseat respectively. My sister was seated behind the passenger seat at that time, maybe if she was seated directly behind the driver, she would have been able to exit through the door on that side. More likely than not, any accomplices will be boarding from the sidewalk, the passenger’s side. If you’re seated behind the driver, you can quickly disembark from your side of the cab, as the accomplices are boarding, provided that that door isn’t child-locked. Just remember to check for oncoming traffic.
- Have the numbers of taxi cab companies to call, especially on late nights/early mornings. It makes sense (although it’s not a guarantee, of course) that cabs from a big, well-know company are safer than the independently driven/owned ones. If you call for a cab, these companies will give you the unit number of the cab dispatched to you. That also means they’ll know who was driving your cab that night, and your driver knows that, too. They are also incessantly, and sometimes rather annoyingly, tracked by their dispatchers as to their status, their location, their ETA, etc. That would make them less likely to try to do anything untoward with their passengers.
- Call someone to give them the details of your cab. Even if you don’t actually reach anyone (especially if you’re on Globe), pretend you did. Be loud, make sure the driver hears that you’re giving other people details: plate number, name of cab, operator name, pickup point, pickup time. Hopefully, if the driver knows that his details are out there, he’s less likely to pull something shady.
- Be alert, follow your gut. A cab ride is not the time to check your Twitter or Instagram feeds. Keep your on eye on where you’re heading, how fast you’re going, what the driver is doing. If he slows down and starts to pull over unexpectedly, it might mean that he’s picking up his accomplices. Check if he’s taking the route you agreed upon. Observe the driver closely if he’s doing something out of the ordinary, like fiddling with a rag in front of the airconditioning. If at any time, you feel like something is fishy, pay and alight the cab at the first safe, well-lit area you come across. It’s a hackneyed saying but it’s true: better safe than sorry.
It’s a sad reality that all these precautions are needed, especially if you’re a woman commuting in this city. Hopefully, this will change, and hopefully, within our lifetimes. In the meantime, if you have any other tips or your own practices apart from the above, then please do let me know in the comments.
Photo credits: Thank you to my friends V and direk Tonet Jadaone for giving me their permission to use the pictures above.