Taxi drivers 'getting away with murder'

By Rosie Manins

Photo / Sandra Mu
Photo / Sandra Mu

Mandatory cameras in taxis are creating as many problems as they are solving, and rogue drivers are "getting away with murder", New Zealand Taxi Federation members say.

About 100 federation members were in Dunedin for the organisation's 75th annual conference this week.

They raised concerns yesterday with Associate Transport Minister and Dunedin MP Michael Woodhouse, who spoke about the Government's review of taxi safety initiatives, including mandatory cameras within taxis and "24/7" surveillance of taxi dispatch systems.

Mr Woodhouse said cameras were helping to solve crime, including abuse of drivers, and were also deterring criminal behaviour.

But many drivers did not want cameras and bought the cheapest available, then failed to use them, federation executive director Tim Reddish said.

"The bottom end of the industry is getting away with murder. Our people (federation members) can be trusted, but unfortunately there are a lot in the industry that went for the cheapest solution because they didn't want cameras in the first place and we know anecdotally there are a huge number of cameras not working out there," he said.

Mr Woodhouse said he was aware of "knock-off" Chinese cameras being used in New Zealand, which was "effectively fraud" on the part of taxi operators.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) was committed to making it harder for those who "continue to do the wrong thing" and was working with police and local authorities to tackle non-compliance among taxi operators, he said.

Mr Woodhouse was confident the review would help address non-compliance, although Mr Reddish was not convinced.

He said the review should be done by "top end" Ministry of Transport and NZTA officials, who had a "feeling and understanding of the practicalities of the industry", rather than Opus International Consultants.

"There are a number of real problems that have to be fixed up and we wonder whether this review is tight enough to deal with those problems," he said.

Mr Reddish cited proposed increase in compliance costs for the taxi industry, which would be "substantial", and said operators were happy to pay as long as the Government better dealt with non-compliance.

"Up to now there hasn't been the teeth, the will or the ability to deal with the bottom end of the industry and as a result we have an uneven playing field."

Mr Woodhouse said the cost of dealing with compliance in the taxi industry far outweighed what the Government collected from taxi operators through licensing.

"You don't like regulation and you don't like paying for it - who does? But the answer is to a large degree in your hands, and we want to work with taxi organisations so we can have more confidence you are going to comply with necessary standards to keep your drivers safe, their passengers safe and other road users safe.

"If we get to that place costs will go down and regulatory oversight will go down," he said.

Another federation member said drivers were increasingly asked for camera footage by police and the NZTA, which came at a price.

"There is a cost to retrieve images as well as a cost in resources to identify images and other additional information for police and the NZTA. The cost is becoming not insignificant and I wonder if there is a way to recover costs," she said.

The delegate acknowledged cameras were useful for taxi operators, and in some cases had exonerated drivers accused of misconduct including sexual assault, but sought a "meeting of the cheque books".

Mr Woodhouse said cost recovery by taxi operators could be considered through the review.

- Otago Daily Times

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