Just hearing about last week's fatal stabbing of Larry Barnes, a 73-year-old veteran taxi driver, made Yinak Sosanya wonder if there will ever be a solution to the dangers cabbies encounter.
"If someone would do this to an old man, is there any hope for us?" asked Sosanya, as his cab bounded through the District yesterday morning. "How can we avoid being robbed? Sometimes it's just a question of luck."
Cabdrivers and industry officials said there is renewed momentum to increase protection after the third serious incident involving a D.C. taxicab driver in four months. Barnes was stabbed to death last Wednesday in the 1200 block of Pleasant Street SE. Two men are sought in the slaying. Another cabdriver is recovering this week after being stabbed and robbed early Tuesday morning at 404 0 St. NW in a struggle with a passenger who pulled out a weapon and demanded money. In August, John Olukayode Phillips, of New Carrollton, was paralyzed after being shot once in the head during an apparent robbery attempt at 44th and P streets NW.
Some cabdrivers said yesterday that cameras should be placed in their vehicles, as other cities such as New York have done. Some have lobbied for creating a satellite tracking system that would enable officials to locate cabs and would allow drivers to send distress signals. Others said the real problem is that they don't trust police officers to solve crimes, so they rarely report being robbed.
The drivers will meet with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) Monday night at Ballou High School. The meeting was scheduled before the recent violence to address taxi rates and other concerns, but Peggy Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said safety and the drivers' relationships with police will be a topic.
An estimated 6,800 taxicab drivers are in the District, said George Crawford, interim chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Many, who are immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, drive to make money to support relatives in their homelands.
"These jobs are important to us," said Balwinder Singh, who manages several cab companies in the area and supervises 580 cabs. "But our number one concern is safety."
Nancy Kutz, of the International Association of Transportation Regulators, said the group recently did a worldwide survey of taxi drivers that found many are looking into using cameras and different types of protection.
In May, the commission endorsed a global tracking system for all cabs, Crawford said. But some drivers fear it would be expensive and that the cost would be passed on to them. The commission is now getting estimates from contractors to get an idea of how much a tracking system would cost.
Carolyn Williams, Barnes's stepdaughter, said she her family would support increasing security.
"He had five children and 23 grandchildren," Williams said. "He started driving to support his family 46 years ago. There's just this trend now of all this violence."
CAPTION: Cabbies line up at Reagan National Airport. Drivers and officials say there is momentum to increase protection.