BRANDON, Man. - Some Brandon cabs have been sporting a new safety feature that has nothing to do with the risks of the road.
The taxis have been fitted with custom-made condom holders that offer free prophylactics as part of a program aimed at preventing sexually transmitted infections.
ABC Cabs is one of the companies that agreed to carry the holders crafted out of blue jeans.
"It's a good thing to have around, it kind of keeps everything safe... it promotes healthiness," said ABC dispatcher Terri Mansell, who suggested the idea to her boss after the company was approached by the Sexuality Education Resource Centre.
The stay-safe strategy is part of the "Take Care Down There" campaign, an initiative developed by the Brandon Regional Health Authority, Manitoba Health, Westman Immigrant Services and the resource centre.
The initiative, funded by Manitoba Healthy Living grants, was launched about a year ago, but it's being expanded this year.
It also includes advertisements that encourage people to use condoms and get tested for sexually transmitted infections. They're plastered on billboards, bus benches, the sides of city buses and in bar bathrooms.
Messages have been developed in languages including English, Russian, Mandarin and Spanish so they reach recently arrived immigrants.
"We're trying to get the messaging out to a variety of people," said Darlene McDonald, a public health nurse with the Brandon Regional Health Authority's sexual health program.
McDonald said that after a brief trial run, condom holders were introduced to cabs last month. ABC and Tasmanian Taxi have agreed to carry the holders in a total of five vehicles.
The holders were made locally from blue jeans, either made into a bag or cut off at the legs.
Condoms are stuffed inside the bag or in pockets and the holders are hung by straps on the back of the driver's seat or front passenger seat so they're accessible to customers travelling in the back.
Mansell said taxis are the perfect venue for free condoms, since some customers are young adults whose social lives take them to city bars.
One driver, who tried carrying the holders for a while, but stopped when interest dropped, said the holders are located in the right spot. Couples catching a ride home from the bar have been known to get a little touchy-feely in the back seat.
"That's common," laughed the cabbie, who asked not to be named.
The holders give cab riders access to condoms late at night when many stores are closed.
"You don't always stop for condoms, right? But if they were there and it's a matter of reaching in and taking a few and putting them in your pocket or their purse, it's there," McDonald said.
She said it remains to be seen whether the idea will catch on with frisky fares.
Mansell said ABC carried the holders in two cabs for about a month, typically during busy bar nights. They gained a lot of attention from customers at first, but then interest declined.
She said the holders have been removed from cabs, but may be reintroduced after a short break with the hope they'll generate fresh interest.