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A Conversation on Taxi Cab Surveillance Cams with Popular Taxi Blogger Gil Avineri

Published by Ellen on August 16, 2012 11:00 AM

Should video surveillance cameras be deployed in taxi cabs? This is one question that has spawned many opinions, but no concrete answers. The media certainly hasn't been shy about posting a surfeit of news coverage of crimes that have been committed by unruly passengers and cab drivers. Questions have continued to mount on the polarized security measure: are cameras actually serving as a helpful aid in protecting taxi drivers and passengers, or are they instead infringing upon the driver and passengers' right to privacy?

Cities across the world are pushing for surveillance cameras in more cabs, arguing that the plastic partition isn't enough to curtail cab-fueled crimes. Just recently, the city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada ruled in favor of making video surveillance cameras mandatory in taxi cabs to protect drivers and reduce bad passenger behavior.

Google news is deluged with stories of taxi cab violence on a weekly basis. Carjackings, stabbings, and physical fights are just some of the insidious taxi cab crimes that have taken place. In the beginning of August 2012, a taxi cab driver in St. Leonards, England was violently attacked and bitten by an unassuming passenger. As a result, the driver suffered massive injuries, including a broken nose, broken ribs, and mass lacerations and bruising to his face. Luckily, the assault was captured on a surveillance camera that was installed in the vehicle. The surveillance footage had critical evidentiary value, and later was presented by prosecutors in the case against the attacker in court. Without the footage, it's possible that no arrest would have been made.

Gil Avineri is a veteran taxi cab driver, burgeoning artist, and avid blogger of the widely read New York City taxi cab blog called "Chronicles of Quayobulequia." Driving taxi cabs since 2006, Mr. Avineri has managed to create a wonderfully written collage of his behind-the-wheel experiences and personal anecdotes that have attracted readers from all corners of the world. He graciously agreed to provide us with his thoughts on taxi cab surveillance cameras. How long have you worked as a taxi driver, and what has kept you in this profession?

Avineri: I have been a taxi driver since 2006. I have a degree to be a school teacher, but I never used it because I don't belong in the sterility of an enclosed classroom structure (not yet anyway).

What's kept me driving a cab for far longer than any of the other occupations is the inert anthropology in it. It's amateur fieldwork, if you will. It’s a 10 minute slice of thousands of people's lives over the course of 6 years. It's inspires my artwork and writing. Do you own or lease a taxi cab?

Avineri: I lease a cab from a fleet garage. It's flat rate for a 12 hour shift. They have 75 cabs in rotation so I get whichever one returns from the night shift when I go out. It is extremely difficult to own your own cab in New York nowadays. How do you feel about video surveillance cameras in taxis?

Avineri: Well, in general I would be afraid that they'll be used for the wrong reasons, like meddling in my business for a motive of their own gain. However, I have nothing to hide. Though I may bend the law at times, I do it with full conscience and with good will towards society. I treat my clients with utmost care, so long as they maintain respect.

In regards to recording the passenger, I would love that! I could use some proof of how poorly many of them treat me! Of course I am in constant concern for my life in the dead hours of the night when zombies and goons lurk and hail us yellow ATM machines on wheels.

More importantly, I need a security camera that monitors police conduct and the fact that nearly none of the officers assigned to write tickets have any sense of good judgment, but only a zeal to please their superiors or meet their quotas, or whatever it is they're doing. Do you think cameras are an effective tool in protecting the driver against potential altercations, robberies, or harassment from passengers?

Avineri: Yes to it being an effective tool in somewhat protecting me from the worse aspects of the riding public, but only after the fact, as evidence. It may curb some potential muggers. As soon as something seems wrong in the back where the passengers are, I pull over immediately and resolve it by any means necessary. Would you be comfortable with a surveillance camera in your taxi cab?

Avineri: I do not have much of a need for privacy whatsoever. Like I said before, I stand behind everything I do because I maintain a high sense of integrity, pride and honor in my service of the public. I have nothing to hide.

I believe in keeping every judgment in context and not simply applying brute law to it. The same goes for the dignity of my passengers. If they're being taped, it must not be used to erroneously undermine their character. Do you think taxi cab surveillance cameras serve as a crime deterrent?

Avineri: If cameras catch true crimes committed, and help to serve justice, more power to them. However, I believe society needs to cure its ills from the roots of its causes. Where are cameras installed in these vehicles, and are they made visible to patrons?

Avineri: I think it depends on the cab and/or the kind of cab. In NYC we have car service cabs, which operate on dispatch calls, as opposed to strictly street hails like us yellows. There is a sign on the door of most of those that says, "You are being videotaped", though I'm pretty sure the camera is out of view.

We thank Gil Avineri for participating in this interview. To read more about Gil’s experiences as a taxi cab driver and budding artist, please check out his blog here.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the guest and not necessarily of or its employees.

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