Inward-facing video cameras being proposed by National Taxi Association

Taxi body says this can help resolve fare disputes and deter attacks against drivers

To tackle the problem of unruly passengers and fare evaders, the National Taxi Association (NTA) is proposing the use of inward-facing video cameras in taxis.

Unlike cameras which capture what happens on the road, these devices will record passenger behaviour in the taxi, and the footage can be used to resolve disputes between cabbies and passengers.

"Such a measure will deter people from not paying the fare, or assaulting (cabbies) or any other criminal acts," NTA's executive adviser, Mr Ang Hin Kee, told The Sunday Times.

The issue of violence against taxi drivers was recently in the spotlight, with two cases landing in court so far this year.

One involves a National University of Singapore law professor, a permanent resident here, who allegedly assaulted a taxi driver on Christmas Day in 2013.

In the other case, an insurance agent refused to pay his fare and punched a taxi driver in the face in May 2013.

"Every day, a million (taxi) trips are made, and although the number (of assaults) is few and far between... we are still concerned," said Mr Ang.

In a reply to Parliament in October 2013, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said there were 50 reported cases of unruly passengers over three years, which works out to an average of 17 cases a year.

Currently, cabs are equipped with a panic button to alert the taxi company's call centre, which can then pinpoint the driver's location and alert other cabbies in the vicinity or the police.

But video cameras will serve as a greater deterrent to would-be offenders, said Mr Ang.

He acknowledged that passengers' privacy must be protected, so only certain personnel in the cab companies should be authorised to view the footage.

Plans to use such cameras are not new. ComfortDelGro fitted 4,000 of its more than 16,000 taxis with the devices back in 2013, according to reports. The cameras are embedded in the taxi's terminals.

But The Sunday Times understands that these cameras are not in operation yet as ComfortDelGro has not fully complied with the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) requirements.

These include demonstrating to LTA how the cameras work and ensuring that the footage is saved securely.

Cab companies, meanwhile, say they take a serious view of their drivers being assaulted.

SMRT, which has more than 3,700 taxis, the fourth-largest fleet in Singapore, said that out of the 2.2 million trips made every month, "only a very small number" have resulted in violence against its drivers.

Declining to give actual figures, the company's vice-president of corporate information and communications, Mr Patrick Nathan, said: "But even one incident is one too many."

Another operator, Premier, which has more than 2,100 cabs, said that three cases of assaults were brought to its attention last year. A spokesman said such cases typically involve passengers who are drunk at the time.

Cabbies whom The Sunday Times spoke to said the assaults, besides involving mostly drunken passengers, also tend to happen late at night.

Taxi driver Shawn Shawket, 54, said: "The attackers pick on older drivers because they can't fight back. Some of the victims could be grandfathers, you know."

The two recent court cases both occurred in the wee hours of the morning. One victim was 55 years old and the other, 70.

In a separate incident last month, 55-year-old taxi driver A. Sandrasegaran was punched in the chin and kicked in the thigh by a passenger.

Mr Sandrasegaran said he had driven the man from Neil Road to Handy Road early on Jan 18. But the passenger, whom Mr Sandrasegaran described as a Caucasian in his 30s, refused to pay the fare and started to walk away.

When he tried to stop the man from leaving, things turned ugly.

Mr Sandrasegaran said the police were called, but no arrest was made. He has since filed a magistrate's complaint.

Mr Sandrasegaran said: "After the attack, my jaw hurt for three days, and I couldn't eat solid foods."

adrianl@sph.com.sg