A year after taxis and private-hire cars were allowed to have inward-facing video cameras, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that these devices are also allowed to make audio recordings.
In a statement, the LTA cited a March poll of 1,000 residents aged above 15 by government feedback unit Reach which found 90 per cent were in favour of such recordings.
The authority said having audio "makes the recordings more effective in supporting investigations into inappropriate or violent behaviour as well as fare-related disputes".
This new ruling will go into effect from July 15, along with a change which exempts buses from guidelines on recordings. The LTA said buses are in effect public spaces because they are shared by many people at any one time.
Taxi operators, ride-hailing companies and drivers who offer rides for payment (including some car-pool services) must obtain permission from the LTA to install inward-facing cameras.
And only three companies are authorised to install such devices for this purpose - i Vision, Solo and SSTA Technology Development.
All taxis and private-hire cars with such cameras must display signs informing passengers of their presence. For pre-booked rides, operators must also notify commuters in advance.
Only authorised personnel in relevant government agencies and LTA-authorised data controllers are allowed access to the recordings to support any investigation. Drivers are not allowed to use other devices such as mobile phones to make recordings in their vehicles.
Number of taxi fare evasion cases in 2017, out of 287 million trips made.
In 2013, taxi giant ComfortDelGro installed such cameras in 4,000 of its 16,000 cabs to tackle fare evasion, deter assaults on cabbies and to help resolve disputes. But it never activated the devices - which were built into taxi meters - because of privacy concerns and technical issues.
There were about 230 taxi fare evasion cases in 2017, out of 287 million trips made.
Mr Ang Hin Kee, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the cameras will also help in cases where female drivers and passengers complain of unwanted attention inside the cars. He said that footage from vehicles could also come in useful for police in any security incidents where perpetrators use taxis or private-hire cars as their mode of transport.
But Mr Ang, who is executive adviser to both the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, added: "I am sceptical that operators will install the cameras voluntarily and the cost will not be passed on to commuters and drivers... I hope to be proven wrong."
Commuter Olivia Choong, 40, said she feels "uncomfortable" about cameras with audio recording, but added that there is camera surveillance everywhere anyway.
Commuter Geraldine Lam, 37, welcomed the new move. However, she added: "I am not so confident that the safeguards in place to protect consumers' privacy can be truly enforced."
Singapore University of Social Sciences urban transport expert Park Byung Joon said that for tackling fare evasion, the cameras are an overkill. But if they are an added security measure, he has "no problem with that".
ComfortDelGro spokesman Tammy Tan said: "As a taxi operator, we are cognisant of the need to balance concerns for our cabbies' safety with the need to respect our passengers' privacy. We are currently reviewing changes to the guidelines and will work with our cabbies to best look after their interests."
The Personal Data Protection Commission said people who do not want to be recorded can choose not to use the transport service which has these devices. Buses and trains have inward-facing cameras too.
• Additional reporting by Toh Ting Wei