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Raising Awareness through Innovative Public/Private Partnerships: The City of Houston and Yellow Cab Houston

Today, we have a guest blog from Minal Davis, Special Advisor to the Mayor on Human Trafficking, on an innovative partnership that will fight human trafficking in the city of Houston.

In Houston, Texas, taxi drivers have joined the City of Houston’s efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking. The City’s collaboration with Yellow Cab Houston and its sister company, Taxis Fiesta, is one example of how non-traditional partnerships can be leveraged to fight human trafficking. Raising awareness through such partnerships is just one component of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan. Released on May 9th, 2016, Mayor Turner’s Strategic Plan is the nation’s first comprehensive, anti-human trafficking response at the municipal level.

To support other cities and organizations in raising awareness through non-traditional partnerships with the transportation industry, we would like to detail the steps we took to build our taxi industry initiative through Mayor Turner’s 42-member, multi-disciplinary task force, the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking (also known as HAC-HT).

Innovation through Collaboration: the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking

HAC-HT addresses human trafficking by convening stakeholders who take a community-driven approach. More generally, HAC-HT is an incubator for innovative approaches to solving challenges. Faced with how to build its capacity to raise awareness and increase tips to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, members realized that the transportation industry, in particular taxi cab companies, could be a valuable ally. Both traffickers and their victims may rely on taxis upon arrival to a city as well as for transportation to and from locations through the area.

Building Capacity to Raise Awareness by Partnering with Yellow Cab Houston

HAC-HT found a ready and willing ally in Yellow Cab Houston and its owner Roman Martinez and its General Manager, Melissa McGehee. Yellow Cab possessed the capacity to significantly raise awareness: it responds to over 2 million calls for service annually, and upwards of 1,500 drivers are active at any given time. A collaborative partnership with Yellow Cab would also allow the City of Houston to engage in strategic outreach leading up to and after large-scale events such as the Super Bowl. (Although data continues to evolve on the suggested link between sex trafficking and the Super Bowl, click here to learn more about the City of Houston’s stance on this issue.)

The City of Houston and Yellow Cab planned with one another to inform taxi drivers about the warning signs of human trafficking through e-mails and text messages, both of which are available in English and Spanish. Yellow Cab’s IT Director coordinates message delivery with the event calendars of three major venues in Houston, which helps drivers be alert in the time leading up to large-scale events when human trafficking may increase. To help drivers in identifying and reporting suspected trafficking activity, we are working together to create an 8-minute training video. There is also an opportunity to reach pedestrians and those who share the road with taxi drivers: Yellow Cab Houston has donated space on taxis’ trunk-back billboards to feature the City’s Watch for Traffick media campaign materials. Yellow Cab will also cover all costs related to the printing and mounting of the media campaign’s PSAs.

Results have so far been significant. During a major oil and energy conference in 2016, which drew over 60,000 attendees from more than 100 different countries, 9,491 text messages and 3,680 e-mails were, in total, sent to drivers over the course of five days. Polaris was also notified of the initiative’s launch date, which will help the City determine whether the initiative can be correlated with an increase in tip reporting.

Build Your Own Transportation Industry Partnership

The City of Houston is dedicated to building the capacity of other anti-human trafficking organizations. Upon Mayor Turner’s release of the City’s Strategic Plan, free toolkits were made available for download on www.humantraffickinghouston.org. Toolkits can be used by partners to engage in policy advocacy, direct outreach, and to launch a media campaign.

To implement your own transportation industry initiative, download the Taxi Industry Initiative Toolkit, which contains modifiable versions (in English and Spanish) of the same e-mails and text messages sent by Yellow Cab. Then follow these steps:

  1. Grow a partnership. Leverage your organization’s existing network to identify contacts with the transportation industry. When meeting, tie in your goals with the industry’s community values.
  2. Tailor your resources. The Toolkit’s contents list Houston-specific information, such as local hotspots for sex trafficking. Change this information to indicate your city’s own hotspots, which will help focus drivers’ attention.
  3. Grow your organization’s brand. Add your logo to the Publisher version of the e-mail.
  4. Send messages strategically. Determine if the taxi cab company’s IT director can coordinate message delivery with the event calendars of venues in your area.
  5. Track your impact. Notify the NHTRC of your initiative by calling 1-888-373-7888 or emailing nhtrc@polarisproject.org so that it can pinpoint any increase in calls from your area.

For technical assistance, or to tell the City of Houston how you used the Taxi Industry Initiative Toolkit, e-mail us at: info@humantraffickinghouston.org. We will respond to your e-mail within two (2) business days. We look forward to hearing from you!

Photo credit: Maureen Didde / Flickr

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