Belfast Telegraph

Belfast taxi driver afraid to work at night after assault

Syed Ali was punched by a passenger at the weekend
Syed Ali was punched by a passenger at the weekend
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A Belfast taxi driver who was assaulted by a customer has said he now feels afraid to work night shifts.

Syed Ali (34) has worked as a driver for fonacab for the last four years having moved here from Pakistan 11 years ago.

He said a customer punched him hard in the right eye when he picked up the fare outside a bar on Botanic Avenue at around 1.15am on Sunday.

The PSNI is investigating the incident and said one man was cautioned for common assault and enquiries are ongoing.

"I feel like I don't want to go out as a taxi driver at night ever again, I'm afraid to work," Mr Ali told the Belfast Telegraph.

He said he had encountered disrespectful passengers on other occasions but had never feared for his safety before.

"People have been aggressive to me before in the past, and racist, asking me why I'm in this country, but this was the first time I've ever been attacked," he added.

Mr Ali said the passenger, who was in his 20s, became aggressive when asked for his address.

"He got in the passenger side and asked to go to west Belfast," said Mr Ali.

"He gave me a street name but I didn't know where that was so I asked him for a postcode for my sat-nav.

"He started arguing, telling me I was a taxi driver and should know where to go.

"He was shouting at me and drunk, it was very aggressive so I asked him to leave the car. "Then he punched me in my right eye.

"The bouncer from the bar was watching everything, he opened the door grabbed him and took him away from my car."

The Ambulance Service said an emergency crew was dispatched to the incident at around 1.30am.

The casualty was assessed at the scene but did not need to go to hospital, it added.

With blurred vision and bruising to his eye, Mr Ali was advised not to finish his shift.

"It's a bank holiday weekend, which is very busy, so I missed out on the rest of my shift last night and I'm not working today either so that's a lot of lost earnings," he said yesterday.

Mr Ali said his manager at fonacab had since called him to offer his support.

A fonacab spokesman said the firm was conducting an investigation into the incident.

"We hold the safety of our drivers and passengers in the highest regard,"  he said.

"Thankfully incidents like this are rare. However we provide comprehensive training and equipment to ensure that should they occur we are best positioned to deal with it"

Each driver is equipped with a panic alert facility, should the driver need it while working.

"This along with advanced GPS and in car communications allows us to quickly identify which driver needs help and where the incident has taken place and if required implement an escalation process which can include police involvement," he said.

"Our driver support teams operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year so there is no time when a working driver is left without back up. These teams include administrators, technical and operational support, supervisors and customer service staff. In addition, we have a comprehensive HR function which can help with professional counselling and guidance should a driver need it in incidents such as this."

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