Smile, you’re on cabbie camera – but installing these gadgets should not be a matter of compulsion

Alf can’t whip up much interest in a debate about the safety of cab drivers in his Eketahuna North electorate. Indifference perhaps stems from the dearth of taxis and assaults.

But Alf personally is fascinated by the subject, because it suggests to him that most cab drivers are remarkably unconcerned about their personal welfare and safety, despite the hullabaloo that typically follows the murder or beating of one of their colleagues.

If they were concerned, the Taxi Federation would not have to press the Government to introduce mandatory safety measures such as cameras.

Cabbies would have done it themselves.

The Herald addresses the matter in its editorial this morning, saying the stabbing to death of Hiren Mohini in Mt Eden in late January has proved the last straw for the Steven Joyce, one of the brighter buggers in the Cabinet.

The Herald notes that at least 160 cabbies have been attacked in the region in the past five years, up from 60 from 2000 – 2005.

Those data provide a strong incentive for the cabbies to take action themselves, you might think. Not so.

The stabbing to death of Hiren Mohini in Mt Eden in late January for a $15.20 fare has proved the last straw for the Transport Minister, Steven Joyce. He is going to recommend to the Cabinet that taxi companies should have to install surveillance cameras in cabs that operate in the country’s cities and large towns in time for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

The editorial says it is a moot point whether this is a matter that should require Government intervention.

Such is the level of assaults on cabbies, often spurred simply by a desire to evade fares, that it might have been assumed taxi companies would have already taken the initiative. Any that did would surely have had no trouble attracting security-conscious drivers, some of whom say they are now too scared to work at night.

It appears, however, that the cost of cameras – usually between $1000 and $1500 each – and slim profit margins have been enough to stall action.

This reflects badly on an industry that is also blighted by a significant number of substandard operators. But it reflects well on Mr Joyce, who, in banning the use of cellphones while driving, has previously shown a willingness to act where there is an obvious need.

In Perth, it seems, there was a 60 per cent reduction in attacks on drivers within a year of cameras being made compulsory in 1997.

But cameras can’t prevent an attack.

Their strength lies in the improved apprehension of offenders. They are certainly a useful deterrent, particularly if cabbies adopt the practice of telling troublesome passengers that they are on film. However, an estimated half of the assaults on drivers are alcohol-related. Some drunks will be too impaired to notice the cameras, let alone regard them as a deterrent.

Joyce says the Government will also consider the mandatory fitting of protective screens. The reduction in assaults in Boston after the introduction of screens was said to be as high as 70 per cent, while Baltimore reported a 56 per cent drop.

Yet cabbies have raised various objections to fitting them, which suggests not only are they unconcerned about their own welfare and safety, but maybe somewhat stupid as well, although Alf does know many of them are remarkably bright. Some have PhDs in spheres of knowledge that Alf can’t spell or pronounce correctly, but they can’t get jobs here because they are immigrants.

The Herald concludes the fitting of screens should be optional.

It suggests other measures, too.

One is carrying minimal amounts of money and having a cashless fare policy. Better training would also help. But perhaps the English have come up with the ultimate answer – a specifically designed taxi.

But it quite rightly rebukes the local industry for having been tardy in addressing driver security.

Certainly, it is in no position to quibble about Mr Joyce’s refreshing willingness to initiate decisive action.

Alf is not so willing to agree that compulsory cameras are a moot point.

Almost a year ago, he wrote cabbies are bothered about their safety…they think it would be good to have security cameras in their cars…so they want the Government to make security cameras in taxis compulsory.

Or at least, some of them do.

Steven Joyce at that time was not so keen on compulsion. Good for him.

He says the cost of about $1,000 to purchase and install cameras in every taxi would be a considerable and prohibitive cost in the current economic climate.

He points out that current legislation allows for the installation of safety screens, cameras and distress buttons in taxis. Using the gadgetry is a matter of choice for drivers and companies.

The Taxi Federation, representing 65 of the country’s 187 companies, supported the move to make installation mandatory.

Its executive director, Tim Reddish, was disappointed the minister had not had the political courage to “bite the bullet” at this stage, because if there was another killing the same issue would arise and the minister would eventually be forced to introduce mandatory cameras.

Alf commented:

There’s something screwy here.

If security cameras improve cabbies’ safety, and if cabbies are concerned about their personal safety, and if they are entitled to install and use the cameras under the present law – then why the hell don’t they do it?

A mandatory regime isn’t going to reduce the costs.

But there was not much support outside of the Taxi Federation for compulsory cameras in cabs

Thirty non-federation taxi organisations were surveyed by Ministry of Transport and NZ Transport Agency officials. Only five at that time would support such a move.

The former employer of a murdered Christchurch taxi driver happened to be among those who opposed compulsory security cameras for taxis.

United Taxis office manager Lynne Ellwood said installing cameras would be costly and may have made little difference in the Christchurch case.

If they want to injure someone or not pay their fare, it’s going to happen,” she said.

The 100-strong fleet of United Taxis, which is not a member of the federation, at that time didn’t have alarm systems or cameras.

Joyce asked the NZ Transport Agency and the Department of Labour to work with the taxi industry to enhance the safety of taxi drivers and their passengers, as required by the law.

“The government’s focus will be on ensuring taxi companies have the necessary safety measures in place that they are required to by law – rather than adding another level of compliance,” says Mr Joyce.

“With the support of the Minister of Labour, I have asked that department to work with the taxi industry to ensure all operators understand their responsibilities in regard to driver safety, and to work with the industry to develop a Code of Practice to cover taxi driver safety.

“Taxi companies are required by law to provide a safe work place for all employees, including contractors, and we need to hold them to that.

“Other than those operating in small centres, they are also required by law to provide a 24-hour communication service with all working drivers but we know that this requirement is often breached.”

The NZ Transport Agency, which is responsible for policing this, was asked to monitor this and penalise offending companies.

The buggers shouldn’t have needed to be asked. Doing it was their duty.

Joyce said then that the installation of cameras and other safety devices was both the choice and responsibility of taxi drivers and companies.

It is.

He made a lot of sense then. He should stick to it.

3 Responses to Smile, you’re on cabbie camera – but installing these gadgets should not be a matter of compulsion

  1. Nasska says:

    Although I loathe the idea of compulsory anything there is logic behind the move. If the industry is as cutthroat as claimed no cab owner is going to spend thousands on anything that his opposition doesn’t have to. One of the few downsides of unbridled free enterprise is that safety standards go down the toilet.

  2. adam2314 says:

    Maybe it takes more brains to work out such a simple solution.
    Than all of these ” Heart Surgeons ” and ” Nuclear Scientists ” we import, to drive our taxis have !!!..

  3. ARTHUR ATTRILL says:

    Get Focused
    There’s only one small problem with the proposal to fit spycam to taxis and it is this:-
    The poor old Minister is being advised and guided by bloody idiots. Accordingly the outcome is absolutely certain to be a dog’s breakfast.
    Let’s look at the track record of his advisors.
    After twenty years of “deregulation” the Director of NZTA tells me (in writing) that the definition of a 24 x 7 taxi service is not clearly prescribed in legislation and that is why it has never and still cannot be properly monitored and enforced.
    At the same time poor old Corporate Cabs in Queenstown are prosecuted for not providing a 24 x 7 service.
    The best brains (and highest paid) of the NZTA do not understand the difference between an “employee” and a self employed taxi operator.
    The most senior bureaucrat at the NZTA approves the use of toy radios as a legitimate means of communication for taxi organizations. He has since changed his mind thanks to having the piss taken out of him through NZ Taxi Blog (thanks very much NZ Taxi Blog).
    The NZTA is the only government department that I know which requires its staff to tell lies as a matter of course.
    The NZTA has lied to the Office of the Ombudsmen, The Minister of Transport, Crown Law, The Auditor General, and heaps of others, and then refuses to answer any questions or comment about that.
    The NZTA writes to some taxi organizations handing them amnesties for past non-compliance and tells them that they can ignore their legal responsibilities for twelve months, which the NZTA has no legal right to do.
    The NZTA then denies that it has written such a letter even when I have a copy of it in my hand. It is signed by the twit that says that it doesn’t exist.
    The NZTA approves taxi fare schedules that are “GST inclusive” and then says that they have no responsibility or interest in ensuring that the users of that fare schedule are legally entitled to charge that GST inclusive fare.
    The kiddilock fiasco.
    I could go on and on.
    Yea righty ho Minister. Good luck
    Cameras! Action!

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