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Taxi cab cameras in Ottawa cabs are a good thing

February 15, 2008 @ 00:06 By: gordon Category: Current affairs

(Ottawa) – At 3:15 am, Wednesday February 13, 2008, a taxi driver was robbed by two male fares in the Elmvale Acres area (Saunderson Dr. near Colson Ave.). The driver was assaulted, money was taken, and when the driver exited the taxi to escape, the males drove off with the taxi. The taxi was recovered nearby a short time later. The driver was not seriously injured during the incident.

The suspects are described as white males, 30-40 years of age.

The robbery is being investigation by the Criminal Investigation Division’s robbery section. (taken from an Ottawa Police Service news release on 13 February 2008)

The City of Ottawa wants to make the installation of cameras in Ottawa taxi cabs compulsory.  While it’s getting a lot of coverage in the media right now, it’s not a spur of the moment idea.  Two and a half years ago, they granted a 5 cent/fare surcharge plus the difference between 7% and the GST specifically to help offset the eventual installation of taxi cab camera systems.

The head of the taxi cab drivers’ union, on the other hand, would have you believe that this is a horrible financial burden and untenable invasion of privacy and that his drivers will not bend to city hall’s will on this matter.

In April 2007, CBC reported that Coventry Connections, the largest taxi operator in Ottawa, was planning to equip all its vehicles with cameras by the end of 2008.

The camera system the City has specified costs about $1500.  In addition to recording a visual and audio record, the system apparently records braking action and steering inputs.  It’s been likened to a black box recorder used in commercial aircraft.

The union complains this is unreasonable and asks of all the modes of public transportation — school buses, regular buses, taxis, and so on — why are they being singled out?

A fair question, so I decided to do a little googling to see if I could find out.

What I found out is that in November 2007, OC Transpo decided to run a six-month pilot project and equip 265 buses with cameras, similar to the ones that will be used in the taxis, that will watch over the drivers and passengers.  If the pilot project is deemed successful, then the entire fleet will be outfitted with camera systems.

One of the goals of the cameras is increasing safety while reducing taxicab crime.  Shortly after being introduced in Winnipeg in May 2002, taxi cab drivers were reported a reduction in fare jumpers and rowdy passengers.  In the calendar year 2002, there was a 71% reduction in serious taxicab crimes.  When you compare 2003 with 2001 (the year before the cameras were installed), robberies and other serious taxicab  crimes are 79% lower.  This is particularly impressive when you consider that crime in the City of Winnipeg increased by 10.5% during the same period.  The police reported that arrest rates increased from 35% in 2001 to 50% and 66% in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

Other Canadian cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, require taxi cameras, so this Ottawa is not doing something never before done in Canada.

The union did raise concerns about who will have access to the information.  A spokesperson for the city indicated that while the policy isn’t currently defined, they would be working it out with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner by the time the cameras must be installed.  This seems reasonable to me.

The bottom line is this:

  • Crimes against both taxi cab drivers and passengers alike have taken place in Ottawa cabs.
  • When camera systems have been installed in other cities the number of taxi cab crimes has dropped significantly.
  • Taxi cab drivers have been collecting 1% to 2% extra from every fare they’ve carried in the last two and a half years. 

Any point is a strong argument supporting their adoption.  Combined, they more than outweigh the $1500 price tag.

Or does the taxi cab union believe that the safety of their members and passengers, also known as clients, isn’t worth a one-time investment of $1500 per cab?

It’ll be interesting to see if the union changes their mind in light of the assault, robbery and theft experienced by the taxi driver mentioned in the Ottawa Police Services news release I quoted above less than one day after they protested against them in front of city hall.

3 Responses to “Taxi cab cameras in Ottawa cabs are a good thing”


  1. Squid says:

    You want to see them freak? If the city decides not to go with the cameras, logic would dictate the cab drivers will have to pay back the surcharge they’ve been collecting. Then the union will go ballistic about how unfair that is.

  2. gordon says:

    Heh… You’re right. But, I don’t think it’ll come to that. Both the city and the largest cab operator in Ottawa are on record as supporting cameras and I haven’t read anything to suggest the city would change their mind on this. O’Brien was quoted as basically saying cab drivers can comply or lose their license. Given the cost of a taxi license, I think you’ll see cameras starting to appear in taxis.

  3. Squid says:

    I’m quite convinced that a big part of the issue really is “we spent all the money we’re supposed to be saving from the surcharge, so now the camera cost will be a burden”.


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. gordon.dewis.ca | Taxi cameras: Do the math (February 16, 2008 @ 12:19)
  2. gordon.dewis.ca | Taxi cameras revisited (July 21, 2009 @ 23:26)

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