The tight-knit community of Chicago livery drivers is reeling from the tragic death of their beloved mentor and friend, Mohammed al Hijoj. Known for his generosity and willingness to help others, al Hijoj was a pillar of support for his fellow drivers, always ready to lend a hand or offer advice.
The news of al Hijoj’s untimely demise spread like wildfire through the WhatsApp group chat of over 1,000 livery and ride-share drivers in Chicago. The drivers, who have long been concerned about the dangers they face while on the job, were shaken to their core. The recent stabbing of a taxi driver and the fatal shooting of another ride-share driver earlier this year only added to their fears.
At a condolence gathering held in al Hijoj’s honor, drivers expressed their grief and shared their concerns about the safety of their profession. Sahil Pinjara, a fellow driver, voiced his worry, questioning if even a seasoned veteran like al Hijoj could fall victim to such violence, what would happen to less experienced drivers?
The day after hearing about al Hijoj’s tragic death, Pinjara took immediate action to protect himself by installing a dashboard camera in his vehicle. It was a small step towards ensuring his own safety, but it spoke volumes about the growing unease among drivers.
Al Hijoj, like many livery drivers, also worked for the ride-share giant Uber. His friend Amer Alrifaee expressed his frustration at the lack of clarity surrounding the circumstances that led to al Hijoj’s shooting. It remains uncertain whether he was targeted by a direct booking, a job farmed out to him, or an Uber ride.
Uber, in a statement, expressed their devastation at the loss of al Hijoj and pledged to assist law enforcement in any way possible. As of now, no one has been taken into custody in connection with his death.
The alarming rise in car thefts and robberies in Chicago this year has left drivers feeling vulnerable. While there is no public data on the number of ride-share and livery drivers who have fallen victim to crime, the drivers themselves and advocates for their safety have highlighted the inherent risks of their profession. The fact that they welcome strangers into their cars makes them easy targets for carjackings and robberies.
A survey conducted earlier this year revealed that 79% of Chicago metro area drivers reported feeling unsafe at least once a month while on the job. Lenny Sanchez, the Illinois director for the Independent Drivers Guild, emphasized the need for passenger verification and other safety measures to protect drivers.
Advocates, including Sanchez, are pushing for the City Council to pass an ordinance that would require passenger verification and address other safety concerns. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Ald. Michael Rodriguez, aims to compensate drivers fairly and prevent them from becoming victims of crime.
While ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft have implemented safety features such as emergency buttons and in-app audio recording, drivers still feel vulnerable. They believe that more can be done, such as requiring passengers to upload a photo to their profiles.
Mohammad Othman, a close friend of al Hijoj and a fellow driver, shared his own experiences of feeling unsafe and uncomfortable while on the job. He highlighted the fear of negative customer reviews leading to deactivation and the lack of passenger identification as major concerns.
The proposed ordinance, if passed, would establish penalties for assaulting a public chauffeur and require ride-share companies to provide passenger verification data to law enforcement in the event of a crime. While Lyft expressed concerns about the current proposal, they expressed a willingness to work with city leaders to strike a balance between driver reactivation and safety.
As the Chicago livery driver community mourns the loss of Mohammed al Hijoj, they are left grappling with the harsh reality of their profession. Many drivers rely on livery and ride-share work as their primary source of income, making it difficult for them to take time off even in the face of safety concerns.
The tragic death of al Hijoj has sent shockwaves through the community, leaving drivers feeling more vulnerable than ever. They hope that increased safety measures and stricter regulations will help protect them as they continue to serve the city they love.