Murders of Chicago Cabbies May Be Tied to Fare Hikes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three Chicago cab drivers have been shot to death since the city increased cab fares 30% six weeks ago, leaving cab drivers and city officials wondering whether the fare increase has sparked an increase in violence.

"There is speculation that the murders came as a result of robbery attempts," which in turn may have been spurred by the belief that the drivers were carrying more money, said Carolyn Schoenberger, the city consumer commissioner.

The city has scheduled a special seminar for next month in which law enforcement officials and veteran cab drivers will advise drivers on ways that they may reduce the chances of being robbed.

"Unfortunately, driving a cab is a very difficult position and a lot of cab drivers can't get enough credit for what they do," said Schoenberger.

Four cab drivers have been killed while on duty so far this year. In all of 1989 only one was killed.

The latest victim was 40-year-old Billy G. Williams, who was found slumped in the front seat of his taxi with the motor running in a parking lot Wednesday night. He had been shot in the head, apparently from behind.

Suspects have been arrested in the other three cab-driver murders this year.

The fare increase, which took effect March 9, was accompanied by a lot of publicity, in part because of several incidents involving cab drivers.

In one incident, Schoenberger herself, whose job includes overseeing the city's taxicabs, was taken on a wild ride by a cab driver after she resisted his efforts to overcharge her.

The driver yelled at and cursed her and took her on a two-mile ride before she was finally able to get out of the taxi, she said.

In another highly publicized incident, a driver allegedly beat a woman and dragged her across the street after she complained that she was being overcharged.

Because of the incidents and complaints about drivers, Mayor Richard M. Daley linked the fare increase--the first in the city since 1981--with tougher qualifications for cab driver licenses and regulations designed to protect passengers from driver abuse.

City regulations prevent drivers from refusing to pick up passengers or take them where they want to go, but Schoenberger said drivers will be taught in the seminar to take precautions designed to lessen the chances of their being robbed or harmed.

"Everyone is very concerned" about the shootings, she said. "Still, all of our residents deserve equal access to cabs."

The seminar will include tips such as "always drop passengers off in well-lit areas" and "don't flash lots of cash," she said.

Yellow Cab driver Carmine-Adan Hernandez said Friday he thought the fare increase was behind the rash of shootings. "They think we're carrying more money," he said.

Hernandez, who said someone pulled a gun on a friend of his two weeks ago, said: "When you're a cab driver you have to use psychology . . . If somebody gets in and asks me to take them someplace bad, I study them and if everything doesn't seem right I tell them 'I'm sorry, but I don't go there.' "

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