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Taxi cameras no deterrent

By Cassandra Mason

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Taxi cameras are not keeping cabbies as safe as they should. Photo / Thinkstock
Taxi cameras are not keeping cabbies as safe as they should. Photo / Thinkstock

Cameras in Rotorua taxis are failing to protect drivers as assaults become more frequent, a local taxi chairman says.

The Government last month announced a planned review of taxi driver safety was under way. Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse said the review would assess how effective taxi cameras and monitored two-way taxi despatch systems had been at improving safety for taxi drivers. The safety provisions were made compulsory in 2011 and the Government committed to reviewing their impact this year.

Mr Woodhouse said the changes were made in response to "a disturbing spate of violence" that included fatal attacks on taxi drivers.

"Since then, informal evidence indicates drivers feel safer, passengers are less likely to run without paying, and assaults have decreased overall.

"Camera footage has also helped police identify and apprehend several violent passengers around New Zealand."

But Rotorua Taxis chairman Ken Driver said the security cameras had had no effect whatsoever.

"Up until we got the cameras we didn't have any trouble, and it's only since we've had the cameras that we've had four assaults."

Three separate assaults - all in August - left one driver with a black eye, one was punched, and another was hit with a steering wheel brace. A Rotorua teenager admitted assaulting the driver with the steel wheel brace on August 17 and will be sentenced this month.

"The people doing runners has increased as well so the cameras haven't made any difference," Mr Driver said.

The cameras had proved useful for local police but not for the protection of drivers.

"When they brought it out they said it was for driver safety, but it seems to be more for passenger safety. It really hasn't done anything for us."

The concerns would be voiced at the New Zealand Taxi Federation (NZTF) conference being held in Dunedin, Mr Driver said.

NZTF executive director Tim Reddish said the review was timely.

"We think it's a very good idea because, although there's been a lot of good intention, things still aren't right in terms of compliance."

Problems included cameras that didn't work, malfunctioning software and some companies not complying.

"NZTA have found it a bit difficult to manage the whole camera regime so hopefully this review will tidy all that up."

Legislation that exempted smaller towns and rural areas from the cameras also needed to be revised.

"Especially in tourist towns it's clear that not everybody know everybody. That's where a lot of the alcohol-fuelled violence happens, especially at Christmas time."

However, there had also been "huge improvements" under the regime and drivers felt much safer. "There's been a lot less violence. Anecdotally there's been a lot less assaults and there haven't been any murders since the cameras have been in.

"There's no doubt they've been very successful in terms of improving taxi drivers' safety."

The review comes after an Upper Hutt taxi driver was stabbed in the head with a sharp object after he refused to give a free ride to two girls last month. The driver had to flee his taxi before returning to drive himself to hospital. Earlier this year, a taxi driver was racially abused in an alarming outburst caught on camera.

The review would seek the views of taxi operators and approved taxi organisations, as well as police and Government agencies. APNZ, additional reporting Matthew Backhouse

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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