A PILOT scheme to film passengers in the back of taxis is set to be launched in the Capital in a bid to cut down on problems ranging from fare disputes to physical assaults.
The proposal has long been campaigned for by cabbies and private hire drivers, although civil liberty groups and politicians believe it to be “a step too far” and an “invasion of privacy”.
The contentious plan is being put before the council’s regulatory committee on Friday and if approved, taxi drivers would have a six-month window to convince councillors that “sufficient safeguards” can be put in place in regards to the storage and accessing of any footage.
The installation of a front-facing camera to help drivers settle insurance claims has already been agreed in principle.
The cameras – three in each vehicle – would cost each taxi driver around £400, with one in the driver compartment and two recording passengers.
The city’s three main black cab firms – City Cabs, Central Radio Taxis and ComCab – all back the proposal.
And it could help to stamp out incidents such as an assault on a taxi driver flagged down on Springwell Place in Dalry last month and then assaulted by four men.
But Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Edie said he had real concerns about the issue.
He said: “How much more do we really need to be watched? We really do need to make our minds up about how far we are prepared to go in regards to surveillance – traditional freedoms are being eroded.”
This view was echoed by Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, who said: “Allowing taxi drivers to install surveillance equipment in their cabs in order to record every minute of every passenger’s journey is both an unjustifiable and intrusive measure.
“Voluntary schemes and panic button systems would offer a solution to those drivers who feel their safety is at risk.”
Several cities south of the Border, including London, already have CCTV in taxis. Drivers cannot view the footage and a special access code is required for the footage, which are deleted after 31 days.
If the proposal is approved, Raymond Davidson, of the Edinburgh Taxi Association, believes it will prove a benefit to both passengers and drivers.
He said: “This is well overdue. Passengers will feel safer. If you have nothing to hide then why worry? Like many city cabbies I’m 100 per cent in favour of it.”
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, refused to dismiss the proposal out of hand and admitted: “The issues taxi drivers have to deal with should be addressed.”
Convener of the regulatory committee, Councillor Gavin Barrie, said: “The council has received requests to allow the installation of forward-facing CCTV cameras in taxis and private hire cars for insurance purposes. The regulatory committee will also consider further consultation on the subject of CCTV cameras being used within vehicles for security purposes, with a view to reporting back in six months.”
CCTV is a must to protect drivers
Tony Kenmuir is boss of 400-strong city cab firm Central Taxis and he believes CCTV is much needed.
He said: “Only a few weeks ago I had a group of lads who jumped from the back of my cab without paying. They had tried to intimidate me but I didn’t back down and it was only when they realised I had called the police that they paid up. Every weekend cab drivers suffer verbal and often physical abuse, older guys and ethnic minorities especially. CCTV would stop all of this in an instant. You would not believe the number of police inquiries we receive each week. I struggle to see a proper argument against it.”